I was recently working with a client who has been struggling with depression. We were discussing how her thoughts and emotions lead to her behavior. If we take a moment to truly reflect upon the relationship of these three, the constant interaction of play becomes obvious.
Generally, when we have a negative thought it can lead to negative emotions which in turn feed into negative behaviors. These cycles become constant and can eventually become ingrained such that we are stuck.
The negative wash, rinse, repeat is automatic.
So the idea is we need to jump into the cycle and change one of the variables in the hopes that the others will respond in kind….positive thoughts would eventually lead to positive emotions and then behaviors therein changing the cycle. Some people may find that starting at another spot in the cycle is easier.
Whether you begin with the thought, emotion or behavior, they feed one another.
In the case of this client she stated, “I tried to change my thoughts…I was thinking that I am defeated and bad things keep happening…so I thought ‘OK, but things could be worse!’”. Indeed they could. But isn’t that always a true statement? Consider that…..of course they could. In truth, we can probably come up with a worse case scenario for pretty much anything if we are honest and creative. The problem with her use of the strategy was flawed. This became obvious as I took her further down the thought process. “And what thoughts do you have after the realization that things could in fact be worse?” The client laughed and said, “Well, then I just feel like crap because I’m feeling badly when other people have it worse!”
Exactly. In this case it becomes clear that her “positive thought” is cloaked in self-flagellation. “I am a loser who can’t get it together!”. What a loving thought.
The truth is that negative thoughts are voices of the past.
They have become so loud and automatic they pop into our mind without warning. They are learned. Our brains have become so used to them they are now defaults. Not only that but crafty! They can easily spin any positive into a negative if we aren’t closely monitoring them.
So then what are we to do? The first is to recognize that if you are truly a master at negative self-thoughts you’re pretty low on the scale of being kind to yourself. Perhaps, on a scale of 0-10 your self-kindness is hovering at a 0. Given this I submit that going from “I suck” to “I am awesome” (level 10) is a tough bar and pretty cruel. It really isn’t realistic. I say lower the bar. That’s ok. Truly.
When you recognize there is a problem that is a step. Forward.
The next reasonable and realistic step would be to just become aware of your automatic thoughts. Consider it a study. Just keep track on paper how many times your mind pops onto something negative and note it. Become curious. At the end of the day just observe these thoughts and how many there are.
Decide on one kinder, level 3 thought that you can then use EVERY time you have a negative thought. How about “OK, I don’t totally suck, I actually am okay and am going to change” or “I’m choosing to not think that but I’m going to give my self a break on that thought”. What ever your thought of choice, make it kinder and use it every time a negative thought comes up.
Begin to keep track of things that you have done each day that didn’t suck! You may be surprised at how many there are. Be aware and think about it. If you made some one laugh, or happy, if you exercised, or ate better, didn’t eat five cookies but three.
The point is to become very self-aware of your thoughts and be kind when you chose your positive thoughts.
Make sure they are not really just hidden sledge hammers to your head. Those darn things are sneaky and can come in from a side door. Call them out and don’t try for a 10, just be curious about a 3.
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I became easily agitated, but had no other side effects. I lost 14kg in a month and kept it off because my stomach had shrunk so much.