Assess Your Thoughts Better
April 9, 2012
— thought map, thought record
By Jim Rettew
Note: This is the third part in a three-part series. The first two parts can be found at https://breatheoutandsmile.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/moving-beyond-happiness-is-a-choice/ and also at “Quiet the Mind” at https://breatheoutandsmile.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/quiet-the-mind-2/.
So hopefully by now you’ve:
- Realized that in many cases, thoughts provoke feelings, and that by getting control over your thoughts, you can better control your happiness
- Noticed that not every thought is important or real.
- Started a meditation practice to quiet the mind and better identify your thoughts as they come up.
Now that you’ve slowed down your monkey mind and can better recognize your thoughts, its time to better assess them.
How often do we think in worst possible scenario? We catastrophize, and if we’re unhappy, we might do it a lot and ruminate about it over and over again. If we had a cut on our finger, it’s the mental equivalent of touching the open wound over and over again and then thinking that we’re going to lose the entire hand.
How then do we get a more accurate interpretation of our thought? The ‘thought-emotion’ process happens so fast that its hard to stop and access it. If only we could get out of our monkey minds and into our rational minds?
Creating a thought record helps us do exactly that. A thought record is a process to take negative thoughts, analyze them objectively, and come up with a better, more realistic thought. This process should be done over and over again until it become habitual. It is only through repetition and practice that this new thought pattern will become ingrained. For each troubling thought, here’s what I want you to do.
1. Turn a piece of paper horizontal, and make a table with seven columns. In the first column, write a description of the situation that led to your negative thought. (Example: gave a speech at work in front of the board, lost my place, wasn’t very articulate, couldn’t answer their questions well. Basically, I flopped.)
2. List your mood in one word descriptions and rate the intensity of each 0-100% (eg. nervous 90%, scared 80%, embarrassed 100%)
3. List your current negative thoughts (hot thoughts). (Example: “I choke under pressure.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to get fired.” “I just made an ass of myself.”)
4. Circle the worst one (“I’m going to get fired.”), and list all your supporting evidence for this thought. (“My boss wasn’t pleased. People were whispering and looking at me afterwards. No one would look me in the eye.”)
5. List all the evidence that doesn’t support your hot thought. (“I had a great performance review last time. I’ve given many great speeches and presentations before. The questions were hard, unforeseeable, and anyone would have had difficulty with them, including my boss.”)
6. Write a new more objective thought. (“Yes, I screwed up publicly, but that happens sometimes when you put yourself out there. Let’s use this as a teaching moment, apologize to my boss, and learn from it.”)
7. List all the ways this new objective thought makes you feel and rate them 0-100% (optimistic, light-hearted, energized, etc.) In addition, take all the moods you listed in column 2, write them again, and rate the new intensity of each one (nervous 40%, scared 20%, embarrassed, 50%.)
Do this over and over, and you’ll hard wire your brain to think differently, even without writing it all down.
Whether its a big event like a breakup, or a smaller event like a bad presentation, the thoughts are usually big, catastrophic, and global (I’ll always be alone.” “I’m going to get fired.” “I’ll never amount to anything.”) These negative thoughts lead to global beliefs that can be extremely limiting, and they lead to emotions such as fear, anger, embarrassment, resentment, and inadequacy.
This is where ‘happiness is a choice’ comes into play – whether you want to accept this negative thought pattern or develop a more realistic, healthy one. It’s not about, “oh, I want to be happy, so I’ll just choose to be so.” It’s about doing the work to set up a new neuron trail in your brain that is frankly more representative of the truth.
You won’t be perfect at this. Like all bad habits, in stressful and anxious situations, you’ll revert to old habits. However, when you think “I’m a failure at this”, just recognize that its a thought, its not necessarily true just because you thought it, and go through your new pattern to better assess the situation. Or better yet, just let that negative thought just pass right on by, like a wispy cloud traveling by a granite mountain.
Hope this helped. Let me know. Write a comment, post your own suggestions, or forward this to someone you think it might help.