With all of the new year "start fresh" vibes in the air, some people are turning to cleaning up their brains. If you want to clear out the cobwebs, you might be starting a challenge or boosting your self-care. Most people are trying to get themselves on a healthier, more intentional path this month.
Jessie Howell, B.A., intern and student with Tides Therapy and Consulting, LLC has gathered some thoughts to get us all started on the right foot together! Let's turn our attention to our thoughts. Some of the most foundational material for how we behave and feel...
If you're looking to adjust your perspective so that you can get the most out of 2023, we think you should take a look at how your thoughts are helping or stunting how you reach your goals. Most clinicians agree that cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the MOST effective ways to challenge automatic thoughts, aka, turning your thoughts upside down! Automatic thoughts are the thoughts we have without particular intent. They float in and out of our brains, sometimes a lot and sometimes a little. Sometimes they're unwanted and sometimes they're pleasant. The point is- they're automatic. Like breathing or blinking. Most of the time, we do these things without really intending to do them.
Positive and negative automatic thoughts are natural, but what if we don't want the negative thoughts and only want the positive ones? Just think "better," right? It's like when someone tells you not to smile. It's all you can do to keep a smile off your face! Just willing for the automatic thoughts to go away isn't enough, as we know. How about challenging them? Using CBT interventions that have been PROVEN to work for decades might be the way to go.
The primary task of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to acknowledge and change automatic negative or irrational thoughts, and in turn, shift the resulting behaviors. This allows us to shift our emotions surrounding a situation. But what does that look like?
What are automatic thoughts?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), automatic thoughts are: “thoughts that are instantaneous, habitual, and nonconscious. Automatic thoughts affect a person’s mood and actions.”
Automatic thoughts in themselves are not bad, but when these thoughts lead to negative views of ourselves, the repercussions can be devastating to our relationships and our mental and physical health. First, you want to ask yourself what your automatic thoughts are. Do you notice any patterns? Do they arise around a certain time of day, situation, or topic?
What does an automatic thought look like?
Our automatic thoughts can be triggered by any given situation. For example, let’s say that you failed to turn in some important paperwork to your boss on time, an automatic thought would be, “I’m such an idiot. I’m not even good at this job and now I’m going to get fired.” While this can be serious, it does not make these thoughts true, but in that moment, how do those thoughts make you feel? How are these feelings causing you to interact with those around you? If you become stuck in your thoughts, you might see your emotions be more negative and uncomfortable. Because you are uncomfortable, your behaviors will adjust accordingly.
In other words, our thoughts have an affect not only on ourselves but on everyone with whom we interact.
What can I do when I have these negative thoughts?
Pay close attention next time you notice you're having uncomfortable emotions or behaviors. When something happens, gently listen to yourself and your feelings. Acknowledge those thoughts and ask yourself, “is that absolutely true or is there another way to look at that?” Is this thought a fact or opinion? Is it helpful or unhelpful? Is it within my control to make a difference, or is it healthier to adjust my expectations?
In other words, it's totally okay to challenge that negative or irrational/opinion thoughts! Next comes the follow up where you replace the negative unhelpful thoughts with positive ones.
With the negative thoughts example above, a person might replace their "I’m such an idiot" thought with determining that thought is an unhelpful opinion, not a helpful fact. We can replace that thought with "I made a mistake, and I can learn from this." This positive thought replacement, which is called an affirmation. Affirmations are positive statements that invite curiosity and compassion. We need more of that in our lives. Let 2023 be the year you turn your thoughts upside down!
If you’d like to try challenging irrational thoughts on your own, here’s a free worksheet that may be of help!