Dear Candy - Working with Negative Thoughts Part 2
Once we've gone over the list of cognitive distortions, identified the ones that are most relevant to us, cultivated our observer and gotten feedback from others, we then want to start getting really familiar with the circumstances under which our most common ones show up. For example, if we've reacted a certain way to an activity or a place in the past, we may catch ourselves "fortune telling" that we are going to react the same way the next time. The circumstance in this case is the activity or place. Another example is when something difficult happens, we may find ourselves "catastrophizing". This means we automatically go to the worst case scenario even though the likelihood of that happening may be very minimal. In the case of catastrophizing it might be something as simple as overdoing it one day and having some symptoms, and our brains turning that experience into thoughts like, "I'm going backwards. I'm never going to recover" or expecting the symptoms to last a really long time. The circumstance in this case is overdoing it. In other cases, we may be triggered by other people. Something they say causes feelings of anxiety and we go into "overanalyzing", for example. So we start to pay more attention to the circumstance of when we get triggered by others.
By understanding what triggers us to think in these ways, our curious observer can be ready when a trigger happens and be more aware if those thoughts come up. When we identify the thought, we can: 1) label it for what it is (e.g. overanalyzing), 2) recognize this thought as an error in thinking (or a false message) coming from your brain (not you), and 3) redirect toward something more useful or uplifting, ideally with an elevated emotion attached.
If you have trouble not believing in the false message, it may be helpful to ask yourself, "What if the opposite were true?" and take a moment to explore that before moving on.
As we get more and more familiar with our triggers, we can then begin to interrupt the thought process as soon as the trigger happens, before our brains can really get into the unhelpful thoughts, cutting them off at the pass so to speak. By doing so the old unhelpful neural pathways and neurochemistry in the brain are no longer getting reinforced. With repetition over time, those pathways start to prune away and we are less likely to have those thoughts and their accompanying emotional states.
As we start to get really good at identifying, labeling and redirecting our most common automatic negative thoughts, we may begin to notice the more subtle ones behind the scenes starting to appear. This is great because as we increase our awareness and actively redirect those thoughts, we are stopping the old pathways from being reinforced to an even greater degree, making the opportunity for change even faster.
The process of cultivating the observer, identifying and challenging negative thoughts is an ongoing one that becomes more refined with practice. It is also a lifelong tool that supports you in keeping the healthy pathways running optimally long after your rewiring for wellness is complete.
Next week: The importance of acting "as if" until it becomes a reality (i.e. you don't have to feel it to start getting benefits)
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com