It can be really hard to feel good when it seems like everything (or even just a few key things) in your life are not going well. And we all have struggles, and we all go through hard times. That’s normal and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But there are also times when we make things a lot harder for ourselves than we need to.
Very rarely is life perfect. And on the flip side, very rarely is life absolutely awful (even if there are moments when it feels like it is). And if you really think about it there is ALWAYS something we can complain about or a reason for us to feel ripped off in some way shape or form.
But the thing is, we don’t HAVE to feel like our lives are bleak… well at least not nearly as often as we might have made ourselves accustomed to.
The good news is we can actually train our brains to see our seemingly-complaint-worthy circumstances in a different way. No, this isn’t one of those “just think positive” articles, nor am I going to tell you to play the Glad Game.
But what we may not know is that most of us have unconsciously learnt some pretty destructive ways of thinking which can both make a neutral situation seem bad or a not great situation seem absolutely awful.
So here’s a list of the most common culprits: AKA *Destructive Thinking Habits. Notice which of these come up most often for you.
All-or-Nothing thinking: This one is about anything less than total perfection being seen as a total failure. In any given situation, if you’re not a complete success you are a complete failure. If you didn’t knock the socks off the group when giving a presentation, you may as well pack your bags and find a new career because you suck.
Over-Generalization: Something unfortunate happens once and all of a sudden you think something totally awful has happened and will continue to happen. Say a friend forgets to invite you to a social event – Well then no one cares about you and you’ll be alone forever. Or, because something didn’t work out one time, it will NEVER work out again.
Mental Filter: aka only seeing the negative. So basically someone says one moderately negative thing about you once and that’s all you can think about and focus on. You conveniently (or perhaps not so conveniently at all) forget about any and all of the positive things others have said about you and are likely to say about you again.
Mind Reading: This is the “everyone thinks I’m a loser” distortion. Or “That person looked at me funny so it means they hate me.” We assume people are thinking poorly about us even though there is no actual evidence to suggest they are thinking anything about us at all – let alone thinking anything unflattering.
Fortune Telling: this one is about thinking things will turn out badly for you even if there’s no good reason that they actually will. “I know I’m never going to find a partner who will love me,” or “There’s no way I’m going to ever get a job I really enjoy.” Or “no matter how hard I try, I will never be happy or successful.” Really? You know this for sure? You have a crystal ball?
Magnification and Minimization: You either blow a small blunder WAY out of proportion and beat yourself up and blame yourself with no reprieve, or you Minimize and disregard the really great things about you or that you have done.
Emotional Reasoning (this one is one of my favourites –because it’s the one that seems to get me the most): You deduce a logical conclusion from the heat of an emotion in the moment. “I feel totally overwhelmed and stressed right now therefore I am a complete emotional wreck, I must be crazy, and am a failure as a human being.”
SHOULD-ing on Yourself: You try to get yourself to do something by telling yourself you “should.” I should be in better shape. I should volunteer somewhere. I should eat more healthy. I should be easier going. I should stand up for myself more… And not only is the over-used should totally useless because it’s actually de-motivating rather than motiving, but as a double whammy, it also makes you feel guilty for not doing what you think you should.
Personalization & Blame: You either see yourself as totally to blame for something that happened that was not totally your fault. Or you make a habit of shirking off all responsibility and solely blaming others for something you likely had at least some part in.
Okay, great. Now that we’re aware, what do we do about it?
So the good news is, awareness is the first step and now you’ve got that one down so we can move on to the next.
Start noticing when you use these destructive thinking patterns. In which situations? In which relationships? They can be subtle, so you’re really going to have to pay attention. Once you’re able to notice these ways of thinking when they come up you can start working on changing them.
And in order to change one of these little buggers, when you catch one you have to challenge it. Give it a little bit of a run for its money.
Let’s try a few:
The nasty thought: “Oh man, that presentation at work didn’t go as well as I wanted it to… so I suck and I’m a failure.”
And the challenge: “Okay, but who says I’m a failure? Just because I didn’t knock that one out of the park does that mean I can do no good? No, it just means I’m not a naturally amazing presenter (which by the way, VERY few are), and I’m going to work on that skill more ”
And a few more challenges…
“Just because that guy didn’t ask me out on a second date it doesn’t mean I’m a total looser and no one will ever want to be with me. It likely just means I wasn’t his type. That’s fine. I’m not going to be every ones type, and not everyone will be mine.”
Or “Yes, some of my friends are a lot further ahead in their careers than me, and as much as I think I too should have had it all figured out way sooner, there were a lot of good reasons why I didn’t. I’m grateful things are now starting to move forward, and I’m not just starting to gain momentum 10 years from now.”
Or “Yes, she forgot to invite me to that get-together, but that doesn’t mean my friends all hate me and don’t want me around, it just means she may have forgotten or just wanted to have a small get together with just one or two other people.”
Do you see how this works? It’s about challenging that a*hole voice in your thoughts that tries to come in and make you feel like sh*t in some way about yourself or your life.
Once you start challenging that bugger more and making an intentional effort to kick that no-good inner voice to the curb, you will notice yourself starting to feel a lot better about yourself and your life.
No, all of your problems won’t magically go away over night. And learning to challenge, re-think and change your thoughts will be hard work at first – kind of like starting to go to the gym after being a couch potato for 20 years – the first little while is no cake walk, but after time, after you start to build up your more-reasonable-ways-of-thinking muscles you’ll find they will start to be strong enough to just take over and work well on their own without nearly as much effort.