This past year brought challenges no one saw coming. The worst possible scenarios were happening all around us. Crisis and negative thoughts were coming to life right in front of our eyes. For some, these types of thoughts happen frequently even without a pandemic.
The brain is a complex thing. It allows our bodies to run on autopilot, problem solve and create. Unfortunately, our brains also create barriers to success. These thoughts limit our possibilities, make us doubt our behaviors, predict the worst possible outcomes, and fuel anxiety. Automatic negative thoughts are subconscious and conscious cognitive distortions that impacts how we view ourselves.
Below are examples of common automatic negative thoughts:
Always or Never Thinking: Thinking that you or situations will “always” be bad or you will “never” be okay. “I am never going to be better.” “I always fail.”
Predicting the worst case: Predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation. “I am going to lose my job if I am not perfect.”
Reading others thoughts: Assuming we know what others think about us. “She thinks I am not intelligent.”
Personalization: Taking things personal when they are not connected. “He didn’t say hi. He doesn’t like me.”
Guilty thoughts: Thinking with “I should haves.” “I should have done more today.”
Labeling: Putting a label on yourself or others that is negative. “I am a lazy person.” “I am so irresponsible.”
So How Do We Fix Automatic Negative Thoughts?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps challenge automatic negative thoughts. We learn to challenge these negative thoughts with alternative cognitions. Alternative cognitions are not always positive but do not make us feel bad about ourselves. An example is changing a thought of “I should have done more today” could be “I needed a break. I am glad I relaxed today.”
Another way to challenge these thoughts, is putting them on trial. When we put these automatic negative thoughts on trial, we use facts rather than feelings. Asking questions like “have I lost my job when I made mistakes before? Is anyone perfect?” Remember when putting the thoughts on trial, you are innocent until proven guilty!
Practice new ways of thinking by using positive affirmations if another way to challenge automatic negative thoughts. These thoughts don’t always feel authentic at first but practicing them helps. Examples of positive affirmations may be saying things like:
“I can choose to relax.”
“I am enough.”
“I have thrived through challenges.”
“I make a difference in this world by existing.”
These suggestions are not always easy fixes. Learning to challenge these thoughts with alternative cognitions, putting thoughts on trial or positive affirmations may need practice and coaching. Cognitive behavioral therapy can give you the tools to change how you think. CBT therapists help challenge negative core beliefs that fuel these automatic negative thoughts. After working with a CBT therapist, you will be able to identify alternative cognitions and change your behaviors. It may not happen in a day, but these changes can last a lifetime.
By: John Clymore