Sunday, April 7, 2013


                Whether you realize it or not, you spend most of the day engaging in self-talk, your internal thought language.  (Yes, you do talk to yourself!)  These are the words you use to describe and interpret your world.  If your thinking and self-talk are accurate and in touch with reality, you function well and feel good about situations.  If, however, your thinking and self-talk are irrational and untrue (and it often is), then you will tend to feel stressful and uncomfortable.   You may even experience an “inner battle” between self-talk that is truthful and reasonable and self-talk that is irrational, illogical, and false.
                 Here is an example of irrational self-talk:  “Everyone has to like me.”  Who says that everyone must like you?  Can you get along knowing that one of your classmates or peers may not like you?  
                 Here are some other examples of irrational self-talk from irrational thinking:  “I should never cry in front of other people” or “I can’t allow anyone to hurt my feelings” or “I can’t allow myself to fail at anything” or “There is only one person in this world who truly loves me.”
                Irrational ideas differ greatly.  Here are eight irrational thinking patterns that influence emotions and ultimately influence behavior.  As you read them, think of situations where you used any of these irrational thinking patterns:

1.       FILTERING: You focus on the negative details while filtering/ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.  EXAMPLE:  Your boss tells you that your work is good but he thinks you socialize too much with the other personnel in the workplace.  You go home thinking that your boss doesn’t like you.

2.       POLARIZED THINKING:  Things are black or white, good or bad.  You have to be perfect or you’re a failure.  There is no middle ground, no room for mistakes.  EXAMPLE: Speaking to yourself, "You are so dumb.  You should have known what to say.  You just don't have what it takes."

3.       OVERGENERALIZATION:  You reach a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence.  You exaggerate the frequency of problems and use negative global labels.  Popular words for overgeneralization are all, every, none, never, always, everybody, and nobody.  EXAMPLE:  "You always accuse me of saying that.  You're never there for me.  You do that every time.  Everybody knows that."

4.       MIND READING:  Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do.  In particular, you seem to have certain knowledge of how people think and feel about you.  EXAMPLE: “You're doing that because you really don't care.”

5.       CATASTROPHIZING:  You expect, even visualize disaster.  You notice or hear about a problem and start asking, “What if?” or “What if tragedy strikes?” or “What if it happens to me?  EXAMPLE:  Speaking to yourself, "What will happen if this feeling doesn't leave me?  What will happen if my son never talks to me again?  What if I am not good enough?"

6.       MAGNIFYING:  You exaggerate the degree or intensity of a problem.  You turn up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.  EXAMPLE:  "That woman cannot stop talking.  There is no way you'll figure that out."

7.       PERSONALIZATION:  You assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.  You routinely compare yourself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.  EXAMPLE:  Speaking to yourself, “I know that she's talking about me.”  He's much better at speaking than I am."

8.       SHOULDS:  You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act.  People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty when you violate the rules.  Cue words used for this type of thinking are should, ought to, or must.  EXAMPLE:  “You should never should look sad; you just need to be happy.  You should have done it my way."

Most of our irrational thought patterns had their beginnings in our family of origin (FOO).   As youngsters, our beliefs were affected by what we saw occur around us.  Besides many good things we may have seen around us in our FOO, we also may have seen addictive behavior from an adult, or a caregiver’s inability to show warmth and affection we wanted, or an adult being overly critical, or an adult being overly rigid in their religious beliefs.  We may have witnessed guilt and fear in adults around us who then attempted to transfer their guilt and fear onto us, frequently through manipulation.  Because we consciously or subconsciously saw our parents’ or other adults’ irrational beliefs played out in what seemed to be irrational behaviors, it was how we learned to view our world.  This thinking may have led us to believe that no matter what we did in life, it would "never be good enough.''  It may have led us to believe that since we may not have known where we stood in a given situation, we had to try to “read” what parents and others were thinking, and would then try to please them.   This thinking may have led us to believe that we were nothing unless we did things in the “correct” way, often the exact way adults demanded that it be done. This thinking did not allow us to love ourselves unconditionally for simply being the person that we were.  
The irrational beliefs we saw around us influenced how we thought, and as we grew older those irrational thoughts became irrational patterns of thought.  Those thought patterns became familiar to the neurological connections in our brains and through years of thinking the same way about certain life situations, the neurons eventually fired in consistent patterns.  Thus, as adults, when confronted with a given situation or event, or something similar to our experiences, our brains respond in an automatic way.  Regrettably, it may be an irrational thought.

Our thoughts, especially irrational thoughts, often produce physical reactions that can affect our moods and feelings, and vice versa.  Those irrational thoughts and feelings can then influence our thoughts as well as our behaviors.  But the nexus, the focal point of our experience is our thoughts, particularly those generated from our irrational thoughts and that often have evolved into patterns of thoughts.  

What we do with those thoughts can affect the event or situation at hand and will most certainly affect our behavior, our action.  

So let’s look at a common behavior that has evolved from an irrational thought pattern that many of us do not like/want to have: procrastination.

Perhaps as youngsters we observed parents who would often put off doing things; they would put off tasks instead of doing them right away.  Or perhaps as youngsters, when we had assignments due in school, we wanted to play and not do them, and perhaps our caregivers were tired and would allow them to be put off, or would not allow you to experience the consequences of delaying doing something until it was too late. Whatever we observed or experienced ourselves, we likely learned at a young age that it was OK to put off doing work, especially challenging or difficult work.  That thinking became a pattern of thinking.  You might argue as to how irrational procrastinating is, but plainly, there are clearly good feelings and moods as well as a likely physical reaction of well-being and contentment when we accomplish a task, and particularly a challenging task, and negative feelings, moods, and physical reactions when we procrastinate.

The emotionally HEALTHY course of action would be that when there is an event or situation, and let’s say for an example an assignment is due for a class, you pay attention to the self-talk in your mind, the “inner battle” discussed previously, and to the positive thought that you should not procrastinate.  Ask yourself, “Why am I wanting to put off doing this?” “What will be the benefit of doing it now?  What will be the positive outcome if I procrastinate?” “The negative outcome?”  “How will I feel if I put it off?”  

What you are doing by asking yourself these types of questions is challenging the irrational thought of procrastinating.  You are interrupting the pattern.   That you may have been procrastinating for most of your life does not mean you have to continue, unless of course you want to.  That you may have learned this behavior from your home environment does not mean that you are destined to keep perpetuating it.  That you may give in and procrastinate does not mean that you are powerless to change.  

Each time you make the right choice to not procrastinate, your willpower will increase.  Done repeatedly (but not necessarily every single time), the neurological synaptic connections in the brain will begin to fire in a new way.  It won’t nearly be so difficult to simply do the task at hand.  You will begin to enjoy the positive emotions and feelings and even a positive physical reaction (or at least you will not be experiencing the negative physical reactions that occur).

(This was a presentation I made to a group of college students)

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