Monday, April 21, 2008

The Thinker Part 1

This past week I had to deliver a session on self-talk and common thinking 'errors' (for want of a better term).

I don't usually have a problem with presenting material but, for whatever the reason, this time I was beset by nerves and stumbled and mumbled my way through it. I was left thinking 'who was that person?' Unfortunately, it was me. Ruminating further later, it suddenly occurred to me I was, in fact, making many of the same thinking 'errors', I'd just been trying to educate others about. Ha. Health Psych does good irony.

Self-talk is what we say to ourselves about the things we experience. Mostly, our self-talk relates to harmless thoughts such as ‘I must feed the cat’. In my household, not having this kind of self talk can be harmful and evoke wrath of kitty!

Sometimes our self-talk can make us feel good, as when we tell ourselves ‘I did a great job today’. Note to self, invoke this self-talk more often. However, at other times, self-talk can also make us feel bad when we tell ourselves ‘I am an idiot’ or ‘I’m hopeless', and that's me post-presentation.

Usually we remain unaware of our self-talk yet our thoughts can have a powerful impact on our lives, affecting how we feel about experiences and how we behave. Our emotions and behaviours are not so much a result of events or other people’s reactions to us, but rather what we tell ourselves about these events and reactions. I'm sure if I canvassed my audience about what they thought of my presentation, they wouldn't be as negative about it as I was, particularly as I'd taken along gluten free chocolate muffins for break. Hee.

Self-talk can be either realistic or unrealistic. If we talk to ourselves rationally about how things really are, we can understand, accept and behave appropriately. However, if we talk to ourselves irrationally about how things should or ought to be, we can feel very uncomfortable or upset.

Some of the common thinking 'errors', as illustrated by some of my very own thoughts post-delivery, include:

All or nothing/black or white thinking When we practice ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking, we see things in a polarised way, which is we consider them either “good” or “bad,” a “success” or “failure.” We fail to recognise that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

"I was a complete an utter failure."

Overgeneralisation When we overgeneralise, we draw negative conclusions about ourselves, others and situations on the basis of limited information. Sometimes just one experience is all it takes for us to start thinking in terms such as ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘everybody’.

"I always mess things up."

Personalisation We think that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to us or we feel responsible for things that are not our fault.

"They look bored out of their minds. It must be me."

Filtering Often, beliefs we hold about others, the world and ourselves can bias the way we look at things. We may focus on one aspect of a situation while ignoring all other relevant information. In filtering, we pay particular attention to events that confirm our insecurities and learn to filter out information that is inconsistent with our beliefs.

"I stuttered in my speech. It all went wrong..."

Catastrophising Catastrophising is the tendency to believe something is awful or catastrophic even though usually it is only undesirable or unpleasant. In this way, even inconsequential events, such as being kept waiting, can feel like a catastrophe because that’s what we tell ourselves it is.

"I stuffed up. They're going to sack me."

Mindreading Often, we assume we know how others are feeling, what they are thinking and why they act the way they do towards us.

"They must think I'm a moron."

Labelling Every one of us makes mistakes or has something we might not do so well. Yet when we label ourselves or others as stupid or a failure, we make gross generalisations about ourself and others based on very limited behaviours. In this way, we can diminish our own sense of self worth and experience other negative emotions such as guilt, anxiety, anger, frustration, shame, and depression.

"I'm a blithering idiot."

Fortune telling This is where we anticipate things will turn out badly and can feel convinced that our prediuction is already an established fact, thereby running the risk of creating the very scenario we didn't want. The 'self-fulfilling propechy.'

"They're going to think I'm a hopeless presenter."

Shoulds ‘Shoulds’ are those unrealistic expectations and inflexible rules we all have about how we or others should act and how the world should be in general. We feel guilty if we break these rules and angry or frustrated if others do. It is important to be flexible and accept that in the real world things do not always go our way.

"I should deliver a flawless presentation."

Of course, we all have these kind of thoughts from time to time but it's when these type of thoughts become an established way of thinking that it becomes problemmatic. Recognise any of these patterns in your own thinking?

What to do about them? Ha. Well, as this post is already bigger than Ben Hur, I'll save that for part 2.


Psychgrad said...

Interesting info HP. R always uses shoulds: "I should go do my work"..."I should go to the gym"..."I should call my mom"..etc. I told him that I found that kind of framing stressful because it doesn't acknowledge your choices/actions as a desire, rather an obligation. I guess both because it's inflexible and extrinsically oriented.

Filtering sounds very similar to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Dreaming again said...

So many thoughts come to mind with this post. I should refrain from saying them though ;)

phd in yogurtry said...

excellent post! you're talking my language here : )

FYI - My list handout used to be titled "Thinking Errors" but I found clients reacting negatively to the "error" part. So I revised my handout, which is now titled "ANTS: Automatic Negative Thoughts"

Health Psych said...

Hi Psychgrad,
Exactly. I'm guilty of the same though, even though I 'should' know better :)

Hi Dreaming,
Don't refrain!!! Discussion is good.....

Hi PhD in Yogurtry,
Yep, I can see 'errors' in not a good term...even more so, dysfunctional...yeuch..ANTS....I like, they do call them NATS but ANTS sounds much sensible. Thanks for that,

Alison said...

I love how you've specified each type of ANT - I'll use that list! Thanks - a great post.

Health Psych said...

Hi Alison,
I'm sure you had these already :)