Have you ever stopped yourself from reaching out to that person, asking for that raise, or taking that job offer because your thoughts told you otherwise? In moments of unknown or uncertainty, our thoughts can go rampant, if we let them. They can tell us, “it’s not going to work out,” or, “they’re probably going to ignore you anyways,” or, “that’s too risky for you to try so don’t try.” Many times in our lives, we can allow our thoughts to be facts even if there are so many more things that are proving those “facts” as false.
What is it about our thoughts that can take us captive? Our thoughts can be powerful enough to chain us to the weight of fear, comfort and even insecurity. I am sure you can find times in your life when you let your negative thoughts take the “driver’s seat.” What happens when that driver is actually the reason for your multiple detours, crashes and pit stops? Yes, this may sound intense and you may think I’m giving too much credit to your thoughts, but I would say, what if, you’re not giving enough credit to them?
In psychology, there is this term called “automatic thoughts” which comes from the master himself, Aaron Beck’s theory of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Theory). In essence, these are preconscious thoughts that come rapidly in our minds in any and all scenarios. These thoughts can be both rational or not, but our focus is on those negative thoughts, you know, the ones that take us on those life detours. Beck elaborates on these thoughts even further to what we call, “Cognitive errors,” which categorizes those negative thoughts.
Types of Cognitive Errors
- Selective Abstraction: paying attention to only a small piece of what is happening in order to prove your view of the situation.
- Arbitrary inference: making an assumption or conclusion even if there are contradictions or no evidence to support this conclusion.
- Overgeneralization: using one or two events to be the “truth” for all other events.
- Magnification and Minimization: the part of a situation or attribute is highlighted to be the main focus or dismissed completely.
- Personalization: you think that you are “to blame” for external situations even if there is no evidence to support that.
- Absolutistic thinking: looking at things, people, or events as either all one way or all another way.
Why Awareness Is Important
You may think, wow that was a whole lot of information. Did I really need to know that? I would say, yes! Going back to the driving analogy, imagine, those negative thoughts are actually a 14 year old teenager driving without a license. An easy way for the teenager to get caught by local authorities is if they showed signs of a “bad driver.” These signs could include swerving on the road, speeding, or knocking down traffic signs. If the police saw them swerving they would have pulled them over, asked for their ID, and found out that they were without a drivers license. The authorities would have them get out of the car, taking away the ability to drive it any longer, and send them home. Think of the Cognitive Errors as the “signs” of a bad driver. In order for us to identify the signs, we have to first learn what these even are. If the cop didn’t know the difference between a good and bad driver, he would have never uncovered that there was something wrong. If we don’t take time to evaluate our life we could easily find ourselves with a “14 year old unlicensed teenager” driving our car of life.
Take Time to Assess
So, who or what is in the driver’s seat of your life? Does that need to shift? We can all say that 2020 has brought us many detours of its own, don’t let your thoughts add to those detours. Take time to assess your automatic thoughts and weigh out if you have more negative than productive ones. If you find that you have specific “errors” it’s no worries! You can utilize things like automatic thought records, social support, or even prioritize self care and schedule an appointment with your therapist.
You and your thoughts are separate entities! If you’d like to explore circling thoughts, negative self-talk, or incessant doubts then I believe therapy may be a transformative space for you to do so. Consider writing in to our intake team, even if it’s just to collect information about the therapy process. We’d love to hear from you and potentially do some of the tough depth work together to get to the bottom of this incredibly worthy effort!
Written by therapist Fallyn Lara
Learn more about Pete by reading his blog posts
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