Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life!

Yesterday I revealed to you a bit about my past struggles with depression and anxiety. Thankfully it has been a long, long time since I have had to deal with either: those were not easy times.

I yesterday that often the way out of depression and anxiety is through taking action, action that we don’t want to take. I have suggested it before, and will say it again, that it’s nearly impossible to think ourselves in to feeling better: if we’re feeling down or anxious, rarely does trying to think our way out of it help. It usually makes it worse, because we tend to think about the negative, not the positive. It’s hard to think positively when negativity seems to be dominating us.

I’ve heard it said (and I believe it to be true) that a person cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking where a problem was caused. So if I’m depressed, I cannot think my way out of it until the level at which I’m thinking changes. So how do I do that?

I use a great tool called CBT: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There are many approaches to CBT, but the premise is the same for all, namely that our negative thinking causes our depression, and therefore if we can change our thinking, we can change how we feel.

The method I like to follow is from Dr. David Burns. What I like about Dr. Burns is that he is a Psychiatrist who prefers to use therapy over medication. Not that he has a bias against medication, just that he has seen therapy work at least as well in his practice. He wrote a book called “The Feeling Good Handbook,” which is large and very comprehensive. By the time you work through it, you will have thoroughly addressed all of your depressive and anxious thoughts. Another great summary of that work is called “Ten Days to Self-Esteem.” I suggest you start with that one, but it’s a great tool for working through stubborn negative thoughts that cause you to tend towards depression and anxiety.

The theory behind CBT is that our thinking can become distorted. Couple this with my claim that you cannot solve a problem until you have risen above the level of thinking that caused the problem, and you can see the issue that we face. If our thinking is distorted, how can we use distorted thinking to help us feel better? We can’t. So CBT helps us identify what our negative thoughts are, and then asks us to “test” these thoughts to see if they are true, good, kind, loving or helpful. In effect, it changes our level of thinking so that we can solve our problem.

Dr. Burns provides and excellent list of 10 “cognitive distortions” that can creep in to our thought patterns. By listing our negative thoughts and putting them up against these distortions, we can find out if they meet the five categories in the last paragraph, or if they are in fact untrue and need to be discarded.

I’ll give you an example. I am frequently asked to speak publicly. After one such event, a dear lady approached me and said this: “I have heard you speak many times, and I usually don’t get much out of what you say. This time, however, I really appreciated your message.” Now, how would you handle that? The “former” me would tend to get upset, forgetting all of the wonderful compliments I have received in the past about the messages I give, and I would instead be upset because one person implied that I don’t usually have much good to say. What’s more is that she was telling me she liked what I had to say, but my tendency would normally be to ignore even that!

If I had chosen to focus on the one negative part of her comment, I would have been engaging in a distortion that Burns calls “Discounting the Positive.” This is where one ignores all the good things regarding a certain event, and focuses on one or two relatively small negatives. Do any of you do this? There are other distortions that are fairly self-evident by their very name: “All-or-Nothing Thinking,” “Blaming,” “Jumping to Conclusions,” and two of my favourites “Awfulizing” and “Catastrophizing.” Do any of you do any of these?

The final stage of CBT is to find what Burns calls a “Rational Response” to the negative thinking. Each negative thought is addressed by identifying any and all cognitive distortions attached to it, and then by coming up with a rational response for each.

If you’re struggling with your thinking, I invite you to try CBT today. It has revolutionized how I think AND how I feel, and I no longer have to stay stuck in the crazy thinking. Try Burns’ book “Ten Days to Self-Esteem” and see how it works for you. I’m willing to be that, if you do the exercises contained within, it will change how you feel.

This is a practical suggestion you can use to get out of the depression and anxiety you might be experiencing. You most likely will not feel like pulling this tool out of your bag of tricks when you’re feeling down or anxious. Do it anyhow. As I said yesterday, the universe is looking at your intentions. Are you intending to get better? If so, then you have to take action. The universe reads your intentions by watching what you’re doing.

So, what are you willing to DO today to get out of the negative thinking?