Are there situations that always get you upset and you can’t get rid of the emotions? If the answer is YES, then understanding the thoughts behind those negative feelings can help you out of that never-ending cycle of distress.
Behind every nasty emotion is always the way we perceive a situation. If we don’t want to experience emotions that get us down and that sometimes make us do things that we regret, then we need to understand the thought patterns behind how we feel about any situation.
To change a thought pattern, we need to aware of ourselves, our behavior, emotions and our thoughts, especially the negative thoughts.
Here are 5 steps to freedom from negative thoughts.
(1) The situation
Think of situations that can really mess up your emotions.
E.g standing in front of an audience and giving a speech. Or maybe when my bestie says ‘no’ to you.
(2) The feeling
Ask yourself what is the negative feeling in that situation.
Feelings can be tricky because you can have a mix of different emotions. Some are not even feelings. E.g ‘I feel like fainting’ is not an emotion. Feeling faint is the result of an emotion.
There are 4 broad emotions that are negative:
- Fear and anxiety
- Sadness and depression
- Guilt and Shame
What you need to do is pick the emotion that you feel the strongest in that situation.
E.g, ‘When I have to give a speech in front of an audience, I feel fear and anxiety the most.’
Or ‘When my bestie one can’t spend time with me, I feel anger.’
(3) The thought
Ask yourself what do you think about when you experience those emotions?
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself
- Fear and anxiety – What bad thing do I think will happen? What kind of danger will I be in?
- Sadness or depression – What have I lost hope in? What is missing in my life?
- Guilt and shame – What bad thing have I done or think I have done?
- Anger – What is unfair about this situation? Who has wronged me?
Be very specific and detailed about the thoughts behind the feeling.
E.g ‘When I have to speak in front of an audience, I get very fearful. I keep thinking about forgetting my lines or saying the wrong things. The last time I gave a speech the audience laughed at me as they thought I was stupid.’
Or ‘When my bestie can’t spent time with me I get angry because I think that my bestie would rather spend time with someone else. I feel rejected and I don’t like to feel that way.’
To get rid of those negative thoughts, you will need to find evidence for those thoughts.
Ask yourself the following:
- How true and accurate is the upsetting thought? Can you support the thought with facts.
- What evidence shows that your thought is not 100% accurate?
- Work out a true/false list as evidence to that thought. Give each true or false evidence points or stars depending on how much facts it is based on.
Are some of your thoughts distorted?
- Check here to find out if the thought fits into any problematic thinking style.
(5) Take the right action
Look at the True/ False list. How accurate is that thought. If your thought is mostly accurate ask yourself what action plan can improve the situation
- Define the problem
- Brainstorm solutions and select the best one
- Make a plan to implement the selected solution
- Set a time to follow-up on the plans
Here are 3 ways to think better thoughts if your thought is mostly inaccurate with not much facts.
(i) Cost benefit analysis
Ask yourself what is the benefit of having these thoughts?
- What’s the benefit of thinking that ‘I am stupid’?
- What are the emotional benefits of thinking that ‘I am stupid’.
- How is the cost of thinking that ‘I am stupid’? How does it affect my work, relationships etc
- Does this thought help me to achieve my goals and what I want?
(ii) ‘Yes’, ‘But’
Challenge your thoughts and perception of the situation. Write down One negative thought and 3 counter-arguments against this thought.
(iii) Reframing the situation
If you have tried to identify problematic thinking styles, you will notice that some times our minds can create a picture that is not very accurate when our emotions take over.
Ask yourself these question to get a clearer picture and better perspective of the situation.
- Can you look at the situation differently? Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there another way of looking at the situation?
- Is there another explanation for what happened?
- How would someone else think about the situation?
- Are my concerns based on a feeling or facts?
- Am I setting unrealistic standards for myself? Will I expect other people to achieve such standards?
- Am I putting too much responsibility on myself in this situation?
- What would be the worst thing that can happen even if my fear came true?
- If it has happened before, what is different between the last situation and the current situation that I am in?
- What can I do to improve the situation?
Reframing a situation and trying to find a better, more positive way of looking at a situation can help to dispel fear and unwanted negative emotions. Different perspectives to troubling thoughts can help us gain a better shade of life.
Here pocket size tips for you to keep handy.
Ellis, A. (2003). Cognitive restructuring of the disputing of irrational beliefs. Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice, 79-83. Ellis, A., & Whiteley, J. M. (1979). Theoretical and empirical foundations of rational-emotive therapy. Thomson Brooks/ Cole. Lachman, M. E., Weaver, S. L., Bandura, M., Elliot, E., & Lewkowicz, C. J. (1992). Improving memory and control beliefs through cognitive restructuring and self-generated strategies. Journal of Gerontology, 47(5), P293-P299.