Help to stop believing your automatic thoughts
Kirjoittanut: Lucas Pääkkönen Alvim - tiimistä SYNTRE.
Help to stop believing your automatic thoughts
We all have automatic thoughts that are wandering inside of our heads most of the time. And we fully buy into what they tell us. We are made to see the world as a structure by our thoughts, but we miss the fact that we are the ones thinking these thoughts. But we are able to see our automatic thoughts for what they really are, attempts to make meaning out of the world. We are able to notice the act of thinking without diving into those thoughts and their content, Steven C. Hayes called that the act of “defusion”.
Risks related to automatic negative thoughts
When our thoughts start wondering and thinking negative, harmful things there can come bad things from it.
Unpleasant emotions- Having automatic negative thoughts can lead us to feel sadness, anger, or frustration for example. We can’t avoid unpleasant emotions, but these thoughts can make it hard to not wallow there.
More negative automatic thoughts- The more negative automatic thoughts we have, we create even more of them, like we keep digging the hole. When our mental fitness and conditioning aren’t strong, is when we are more susceptible to having this negative spiral.
Victim role- There are two roles: victim and player. The victim role thinks: “Things happened to me, and I can’t do anything about it” while the player thinks “I am responsible for how I respond to life, so I have some control over my life”. Automatic negative thoughts normally put us in the victim role. It takes the pressure out of us as we supposedly don’t have control over what happens in our life, but it also limits us.
Confirmation bias- When we have our automatic thoughts in the driver’s seat, we automatically look for evidence that will validate those thoughts. Overlooking all the things that go against our automatic thoughts.
Reduction in mental well-being- Having these unhelpful automatic thoughts can threaten our mental health if we don’t work on them, being able to cause things like social anxiety or depression. (Roncero, 2021)
Pivot away from believing our automatic thoughts
There are some techniques that we can use on a daily basis on almost every place to help us deal with negative automatic thoughts.
Disobey on purpose- A good practice is to stand up in your room for example and walk around a few times while saying “I cannot walk around this room”. It is proven that this “silly exercise increased tolerance on experimentally induced pain by nearly 40%. Proving to yourself that your mind`s power over you is an illusion can give you more freedom to do hard things, and you can use techniques like the one in this example very easily daily.
Give your mind a name- When you listen to another person, you don’t agree whit everything that they have to say, with your internal voice we usually feel like we can’t disagree. Naming your mind helps with questioning your thoughts, even if it is something like Mr. Mind. Because if you and your mind have a different name, it means it is different from you.
Appreciate what your mind is trying to do- As your mind starts to chatter answer it with “Thank you for that _____(your minds name)”, if you try to dismiss it, it will try to continue problem-solving. So be sincere to your mind and even add “I really get that you’re trying to be of use, so thank you for that. But I’ve got this covered. Most likely your mind will try to push back but keep being polite and thanking it for its remarks and trying to help.
Sing it- When you have a thought that doesn’t leave your head, you might want to sing it to a tune like for example an easy one like happy birthday. The thought will not go away or become unbelievable after this exercise, but you will be able to see it more clearly as just another thought.
Carry it around- Write down a negative, recurring thought on a small piece of paper. After you have written it, look at it and think that those words are an echo of your history, and ask yourself are you willing to honor that history by carrying that piece of paper whit you, if yes putt it in your pocket and carry it around with you for some days and a few times a day pat your pocket acknowledging that it is a part of your journey. (Hayes, 2019)
These exercises can be very helpful. We need to stop thinking of our internal voice as a boss and start thinking of it as an advisor, which can be enormously helpful for us. Our mind is not bad as long we don’t let it rigidly dictate our actions. Our mind is a toll that can help us enormously.
Hayes, S.C. (2019) 5 effective exercises to help you stop believing your unwanted automatic thoughts, ideas.ted.com. TED. Available at: https://ideas.ted.com/5-effective-exercises-to-help-you-stop-believing-your-unwanted-automatic-thoughts/ (Accessed: December 5, 2022).
Roncero, A. (2021) Automatic thoughts: How to identify and fix them, Automatic Thoughts: How to Identify and Fix Them. BetterUp. Available at: https://www.betterup.com/blog/automatic-thoughts (Accessed: December 5, 2022).