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What Are You Thinking?

We get so used to our thoughts and assumptions, that they seem to be undeniably real.

We aren't in the habit of questioning them.

But what if some of what we imagine is just that? Creative thinking, so to speak.

How do we feel when we make certain assumptions? If the answer is that we feel bad, and that they're often not true, then why not try to change the habit?

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves questioning our beliefs and assumptions. It even goes so far as to name them "thinking errors," or cognitive distortions.

Aaron Beck, a prominent psychiatrist, known as the father of cognitive therapy, first presented the theory of cognitive distortions, and used it to assist his patients in their process of introspection and achieving positive change. Examples of these distortions were introduced, and discussed more in depth, by David Burns, psychiatrist, and author of "Feeling Good."

Utilizing cognitive distortions often contributes to unhappiness and problems in relationships with ourselves and others.

Peruse the following list, and see if you can identify your cognitive distortion of choice!

Most people can recognize at least a few that they employ on a regular basis. I certainly can!

If you note that you are engaging in some of these, you can challenge yourself to question them. Practicing this could, and often does, lead to increased feelings of peace and calm! It is a method of letting go. Think of it as a work in progress. It takes practice. However, awareness is the first step!

Catastrophizing: This is assuming that the worst will happen. If you really think about it, usually the worst doesn't happen! It's actually quite rare.

True catastrophes in our lives usually arise out of the blue! Oftentimes, they're unpreventable, anyway.

When we imagine the worst, we needlessly make ourselves feel bad.

Black and white thinking: This is when we have very strict ideas of what is acceptable and unacceptable, and if we don't adhere to those, we feel terrible. This applies to ourselves and to others. Life is actually full of gray areas. So often, "all or nothing" just doesn't tell the whole story.

People sometimes behave badly, and sometimes well. Very few things in life are all positive or all negative.

Emotional reasoning: This means that because we feel something, we believe that it must be true. But, just as we cannot believe everything we think, we cannot always trust what we feel to be accurate!

Sometimes our emotions are not healthy, and they color our views of ourselves and the world, in ways that aren't useful.

Filtering: We magnify negative details, and minimize positive ones, rather than objectively considering each.

When we ruminate, and focus on the negative, that part becomes amplified, and causes more distress.

Examine your thoughts on a particular subject that is causing you distress, and try to determine whether you are selectively ignoring some of the facts.

Shoulds: This is a common one for those of us who are perfectionists! We have a very rigid idea of what should be, and if we don't measure up, we must be failing miserably!

In truth, we are likely to be able to meet our own standards at certain times, and not at others. We all make mistakes. We all disappoint ourselves and each other sometimes. Shoulds are not universal, or set in stone.

Personalization: This is when we imagine that we are the cause of someone else's behavior, or of the outcome of an event. We feel as though other people's behavior is precipitated by something that we said or did. We all do this at times. Everyone is mostly aware of what's going on with themselves, and this can mean neglecting to consider another person's experience.

Jumping to conclusions: This is similar to personalization. We assume that we know exactly why someone is doing what they're doing, when in fact, we don't have the information. What else could be an explanation for what we saw or heard? Oftentimes, we just don't know! We don't actually know how others are feeling inside, or why they do what they do.

How many times have you made an assumption about someone's behavior, or treatment of you, only to discover later that there was a good reason for it, and/or, that it had nothing at all to do with you?

Hopefully, this list was helpful. It's difficult to remember, but we get to choose what we think about and focus on.

And if we don't have all of the information, or aren't sure, why not assume the best, and think thoughts that make us feel better?

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