How Big Are Your Thoughts?
When it comes to our thoughts, size matters. We make things bigger than they are. We make ourselves smaller than we are. We make things into disasters when they aren’t. These kinds of thinking are inaccurate perceptions of reality. This thinking often uses words like “disaster”, “catastrophe” and modifiers like “huge”, “gigantic” and “epic”.
If I have a headache, I assume it’s a brain tumor. If I have a bad job interview, I’ve ruined my career. Notice how this thinking aligns with creating a story line that involves drama. If I oversleep my day is ruined*.
Getting off the Express Train
I was working for a company that received some very negative news. As I watched the stock drop and read newspaper accounts of the potential lay-offs, I began to picture myself as a bag lady living under a bridge. I talked to a friend about my worries and she said, “Do you think you could get on the local train instead of immediately jumping on the express train to the end of the line?” This is catastrophic thinking leaps from right now to the worst possible conclusion.
Changing the Narrative
Many years ago, my husband and I went through a very difficult financial time. We had to allow our health insurance to lapse, we paid our rent late and we dug quarters out of the sofa to buy groceries. When things got better, I told the story about the terrible time we had gone through. One day, as I was repeating this story, I stopped mid-sentence when I realized that I viewed it completely backwards. I had always told this story as the time of disaster. I said how I felt abandoned by God and completely alone.
Now, I realized that wasn’t true at all. We had never missed a car or a rent payment, and although our health insurance lapsed we never needed it. We never even missed a meal. Far from being helpless and destitute, we had survived. The same facts could be looked at from a different perspective. I could see the positive outcome for the first time.
One way to combat this damaging thinking is to recall similar situations from the past. Have I been taken care of in the past? Have I achieved something despite the fact I thought I would fail? Have I recovered from illness and injury? This is all positive evidence that can contribute to my knowledge that something positive is likely to happen again.
What should you do about this kind of thinking?
•Use the mantra “Nothing bad is happening right now” or ask yourself “This is right, why is it right?”
•Cultivate gratitude. Try making a gratitude list.
•Examine the positive evidence.
•Stay in the present moment, don’t borrow trouble from the future.
* I have a friend who combats this by saying, “I never say I’m having a bad day, I’m not willing to surrender a whole day to one bad moment.”
PS. This is excerpt from my book Confessions of a Failed Perfectionist