Depression 10 Mental Filter
Why we tend to filter out the positives in a situation and focus on the negatives. Also how to combat this tendency.
Pessimism as a Survival Tool
We were created with a certain amount of built-in pessimism and skepticism. It keeps us safe and alive. If we weren’t naturally wary of new things, unfamiliar places, and new people, we wouldn’t have survived long. As we experience new people/places/things, we build up a certain amount of faith that they won’t intentionally harm us. This is a part of the survival instinct.
For some of us, however, that instinct has gone awry. Often this is the result of our experiences growing up. We learn, through the mistreatment of caregivers, teachers, friends, or others that we’re not worth much. Or that we shouldn’t expect good things. Or that nothing is destined to work out right.
We become pessimists to a fault. Eventually, for some of us, it’s hard to see the silver linings in any of the dark clouds of negativity that surround us.
Filtering Out the Positives
If you’ve been following my series on depression, you know that I believe it to be our thinking that causes the condition. Get me thinking negatively enough, and it’s going to manifest in my mood. Whether the basis of “problem” thinking is chemical, or situational, or whether it was conditioned in my childhood, it doesn’t matter. Straighten out the thinking, and you fix the problem.
The “Cognitive Distortion” I want to focus on today is “Mental Filter.” When I do, I filter out the positives, and instead dwell on the negatives. For every positive I’m presented with, my mind says “Yeah but…,” and I find a reason why it “doesn’t count.”
“Look at how awesome you’re doing,” my friends tell me. “You’re going to the gym 4 days a week now, and you never used to!” I dip my head and say “Yeah, but I’m not losing any weight.” They counter with “Well, that’ll come in time, just stick with it.” I respond with “Yeah, well I’m just not disciplined enough, and this probably won’t last. It never does.”
We exchange a few more thoughts, and for every positive they mention, I find a corresponding negative. I’m “filtering out” the positives and focusing only on the negatives. Who wouldn’t get depressed, thinking this way?
Who Am I?
My name is Mike MacKinnon, and I’m a personal trainer in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. I serve the Greater Toronto area and beyond, offering 1-on-1 personal training, as well as online training programs. I am also a life coach and weight loss coach, offering both face-to-face coaching, as well as distance coaching via phone or Skype.
Combatting the Mental Filter in our Brains
It’s like we have this mechanism in our heads that’s set to automatically discard all positive thoughts. No matter what positive option is presented to us, our brains kick it out, and replace it with a corresponding negative. For we who have suffered from trauma in our lives, this can be an ingrained pattern of thinking, and at first glance, it may appear very hard to break.
First, we need to challenge the negative thoughts. The best way to do this, according to Dr. David Burns, is to use the “Survey Method.” Talk to others about your thinking, ask them if they believe your thoughts to be reasonable. Here we must be careful to try and be open to what they have to say.
The problem often is that we don’t believe – and we challenge – the positive statements others present to us. To properly use the “Survey Method,” we must make ourselves open to feedback. We must make a conscious decision to believe that perhaps our thinking is faulty.
This can be difficult, and it may take practice. It requires reserving judgment, mindfully letting go of the negative thoughts, and asking ourselves what might be true about the positive options being presented. I’d suggest writing all this down, because our minds will tend to move back to filtering if we can’t see our thought patterns for what they are. Our tendency to resort to negative thinking will be hard to spot if it’s not on paper, staring us in the face.
“This Seems So Hard”
At first glance it might. The truth is, with a little bit of practice, an open mind, a willingness to journal our thoughts and to ask for feedback, it’s not so bad. Try it, and you might amaze yourself at how simple the process really is.
It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. If you find doing it alone too hard, then consider reaching out to me. I coach people in combatting negative thought patterns, and might just be able to help you break free of your destructive thinking.