Most if not all of us locate our sense of who we are in the mind. After all, without our thoughts who would we be? Would we have any sense of personal identity without them? And yet, as we’ve seen in a previous article, we can ‘step back’ from our thoughts and examine them in a more detached way. The mind, as it were, can look at itself. This simple but powerful ability allows us to deal with different kinds of negative thinking and help to create a greater sense of mental balance.
Filtering. This is the tendency to focus on a negative event and the thoughts that go with it while ignoring positive aspects of a situation. If I give a presentation to an audience I might get more good feedback reviews than negatively critical ones, yet those negative comments might upset me more than the positive ones will please me. By noticing that this is happening I can choose to think differently. I might rationalise the situation by telling myself that ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’, or I might choose to use the negative comments positively to improve my next presentation. Or I could speculate on whether my critics could give a better presentation, telling myself that it’s easy to criticise but not so easy to get up there and do it yourself.
Black and white thinking. This is where the mind leaps to either/or extremes, where for instance I have to do something perfectly or I’m a failure. Noticing this tendency gives me the opportunity to challenge it. Again, if my performance is criticised, instead of thinking I’ve failed I could, with a critical eye, pick out aspects that I did well. I might also realise that perfection is always an aim, a journey that usually has no destination. As a nursery teacher my wife would regularly tell both children and staff that ‘practice makes better’, sound advice that I still carry with me.
Jumping to conclusions. I might hear some people laughing nearby and immediately think that they’re laughing at me. Or I think about next week’s job interview and straight away visualise it as a disaster. This mental habit can be changed by deliberately imagining alternatives. Maybe the people were laughing at a joke. Perhaps the interview will go brilliantly well - and I can reinforce that possibility by rehearsing it in my imagination.
More tricks of the mind and how to deal with them next time.