Do you ever feel like you’re not making progress towards your goals or that you seem to get in your own way? It could possibly be due to “stinking thinking,” most well known as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are sneaky, distorted, and irrational thoughts that we hold to be true. They just keep us in a place of fear without any warrant. They can also put us in a place of second guessing ourselves and delaying what we know must be done.
The good news is that you are normal (yay!) and that there are definite ways to overcome these irrational and often, negative patterns of thinking. The next time you feel paralyzed by fear, put your thoughts on trial and honestly answer the questions below. Using a recent or current thought that has a negative undertone, ask yourself:
- What evidence do I have to support this outcome or belief? When you put your thoughts on trial, you have to lay out all the evidence on the table. The positive and negative, the realistic and not. If you think the outcome will be negative, you will somehow talk yourself out of situations without having evidence to support it. So, go ahead and write down all the evidence that you have to support your outcome. If the evidence is slim, your initial thought is most likely an irrational belief.
- What is the worst that can happen? With irrational thoughts come irrational and unlikely outcomes. When you imagine the worst possible outcomes and believe them as true, you are catastrophizing. When there is something you are afraid to do because the situation has been magnified, you have to ask yourself “What is the likelihood of this catastrophe really happening?”
- Do I have the tools to succeed? Tools include everything from education to the right connections. Take inventory of what you already have, know, and can do. Keep in mind that the stinking thinking mindset will trick you into thinking you do not have the necessary or adequate tools. If you can honestly say you do not have the basic or necessary tools to succeed then ask yourself, “Where can I find the tools needed?” Once you get the tools put those initial thoughts back on trial.
- Do I believe I am a mind-reader? Contrary to popular belief, we do not know what is on the mind of another person. As humans, we misinterpret or miss signals from others all the time. When you believe what another person is thinking about you is negative, you no longer set yourself up for success. Your misperceptions may cause you to behave or communicate in ways that are no longer affirming. Go into all situations, reassuring yourself that the only thing certain are the thoughts you have within yourself.
- Am I seeing the gray? If you find yourself thinking in terms of “all or nothing” (also known as black and white thinking) this may hold you back from accomplishing your goals. So much of life exists in the middle, the gray areas that are not truly defined. The gray leaves room for change and improvement. So, if you catch yourself thinking in terms of “never, all, always,” you may be setting yourself up for stagnation. After all, there are no absolutes in life.
- Did someone give this irrational thought to me? If you notice falling into the same types of negative thought patterns as listed above, you may want to pause and ask yourself “Where did this come from?” Many of our irrational thoughts and distortions have been given to us or observed by others, and in various situations (e.g., home environment, at school). Before adopting a negative thought as your own, be sure to assess if it was your original thought to begin with.
As mentioned before, having cognitive distortions are normal. You just have to mindful of them and not get into recurrent patterns of feeling stuck because you think they are true. Continuously assessing and correcting our negative thought patterns can be exhausting, but it is necessary to move past fear and accomplish the goals you set for yourself.
Anyone else out there guilty of a little stinking thinking? What are your favorite ways to put them on trial? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
P.S. Remember growth can happen anywhere, even in the stuck places.