Live Well: Better Thinking For Mental Health

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. Chinese Proverb
Years ago, I heard the phrase: “Our own crazy self-talk always makes sense.” (Earnie Larsen). Believing our own false, inner dialogue can have devastating effects on our lives. Messages, such as: “I’m stupid…I can’t…I’ll be happy when/if…He/she made me so angry…,” and so on, often determines attitude toward the self and life in general. We can become convinced that we are victims of life and circumstances, that others have it so much easier, and rail against life’s injustices.
Why is it, do you think, that some people are so attached to their negative thinking that all the good things in their lives pass without notice, but each negative thought or event attaches thus strengthening an opinion that some master puppeteer is deliberately singling them out for misery? It is something like the old fashioned sticky paper that hung down to trap flies; negative thinkers attract and attach to negativity while being unaware and ungrateful for the good things in their lives. Over time, such negative thinking becomes entrenched and habitual. Automatic negative thinking (ANT) influences mental health by releasing biochemical reactions and emotions which affect one’s mood and behavior.
It goes without saying that our minds are powerful instruments and thinking, negative or positive, controls mood and behavior. Distorted thinking feeds anxiety, depression, health outcomes, quality of life, self-esteem, relationships, and so on. While the bad news is that negative thinking has such power, because it is a learned behavior the good news is that we can learn to think differently. It is not an easy task, to be sure, because it requires considerable determination and effort.  Becoming aware of negative thinking, such as “black and white thinking” where there are no grey areas, “jumping to conclusions,” “catastrophizing,” “always being right,” or “predicting the future,” is the first step in the change process.  Like most changes, a decision is first required along with a commitment to do what it takes for as long as it takes to achieve the desired change.
Once aware of the negative thought, picture a giant stop sign; counter the negative thought, for example changing the thought “I’m stupid” to “I am a competent, capable person.” Using distraction—moving to another location or activity—can also help. Then, journal successes and challenges, and remember to strive for progress, not perfection.