Just as drops of rain become streams, then rivers and then oceans, our individual thoughts, become patterns of belief, which in turn become patterns of behaviors which then reinforce our beliefs. We all craft these narratives into our own internal beliefs and in our relationships.
As we become more self-aware we begin to see these cycles and we determine some of them are not helping us achieve our desired outcomes in life and relationships. Recognizing thoughts and emotions is one of the many ways to begin to challenge and shift these negative narratives that we have.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is one of the most researched models of therapy and provides skills for identifying and challenging the thoughts and emotions that we might experience. CBT typically identifies 10 different types of thinking errors--ways of thinking that are unhelpful, often untrue, and lead to discouragement, depression, anger and anxiety.
All-or-nothing thinking is characterized by two categories, often on the extreme ends of things. Perfection and failure. Good and bad. Always and never. Everyone and no one. There is no middle ground in this type of thinking.
This one makes me think of my teachers in school that told me to beware of "never" and "always" when taking tests. Those types of absolute statements can trip us up on test questions and can trip us up in our lives. This thinking error is characterized by unintentionally exaggerating, taking one event in one area of your life and applying it to the whole.
Mental Filter and Discounting the Positive
This is the tendency to unintentionally or intentionally ignoring the good and only recognizing the negative. This fits those of us that can't take a compliment. That can always find the flaw in anything, especially themselves.
I'm pretty sure we have all assumed we knew exactly what another person was thinking at some point in our lives. Sometimes we might even be right. The reality is that when we make assume what people might be thinking, what their intentions are, etc. we are opening ourselves up for hurt feelings, miscommunication, and mental distress that we are causing ourselves.
Similar to mind reading, fortune telling assumes we know what is going to happen in the future. And sometimes we create the very thing we were worried about happening.
When we take a small things and make them big and horrible, with no solutions and no hope. This is where we say words like, terrible, awful, and horrible. And the all inclusive, "I can't stand it!"
Emotional reasoning is the idea that if I feel it, it must be true, and therefore I do whatever it is I feel. If I am angry, then it means you have done something wrong. Or if I feel stupid then I must be stupid. If I feel tired then I must sleep.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. It's putting a label on yourself, or others rather than just observing the facts. "I failed my exam" becomes "I'm so stupid!" "He is selfish" rather than "He forgot to text me back."
Taking things personally. If someone is unhappy, then it is your fault. If they don't respond to your email then you worry that you were too aggressive. Somehow everything becomes a reflection on you.
Shoulds and Musts
This is where we have an unrealistic ideal that we are trying to meet, or expecting others to meet, or even expecting the world to be. "It's not fair!" is one of my favorites. This is coming from a place of us expecting the world to be fair--which clearly it isn't. "I should have gotten an A!" "He shouldn't have been late!". These types of shoulds and musts typically lead to negative feelings.
Here's something to try: Look for these types of thoughts in what others say, what you say and in your internal narrative. As you become skilled at finding them you can begin to challenge them and find alternative thoughts. It takes practice and more practice, but just as each drop of rain adds to the whole, each thought challenged can shift the course of your narrative into a more positive one.