Identify and stop negative thought patterns

Published on 2023-6-28

We start with a fictional tale about a character named Lisa. She is a teacher with almost twenty years of experience standing in front of a classroom. She just did an amazing presentation on the history of prehistoric species. “You really outdid yourself on that presentation today!” A student declares from the other side of the room. Unsure how to respond, Lisa mumbles before recovering: “Thank you, you know colleague Henry really helped out on the slides!”.

That night she think to herself. I could've done that transition between the origin of species a bit better, but all in all I did alright. Of course I did, I am doing this for years. Hope I can match the enthusiasm of my colleague Bob one day. If only I did better on that transition, sigh.

A short tale of a compliment gone wrong for our teacher Lisa. You may have noticed a negative thought in her story. But did you know that there're more than three common negative thought patterns in this short paragraph alone! And you may be doing them yourself every day without even noticing. Let's go through some common negative thought patterns you should erase from your life.

All or nothing

One common trap is placing the world in a yes/no category. Things are either good or bad, black or white.. In this story Lisa is clearly only focusing on the slight error in her presentation. She places a mental filter on the event and can only dwell on that one negative thought. Even when nobody might have noticed and the audience even complimented her for the presentation, all Lisa sees is the one transition she wanted to do better. With that she only focuses on the negative and instead of seeing the day as a near perfect, she sees it as a total failure.

Disqualifying the positive

Once Lisa gets complimented she clearly tries to distance herself from the positive experience by mentioning someone else. It's almost as if she is disqualifying her efforts. Even if this is not her intention, subconsiouly it may creep in that Lisa thinks good things only happen thanks to others.

I should

In the aftermath we see Lisa dwelling on her performance, mentioning she “should be”, and followed by her wish to one day match Bob in his enthusiasm. This train of thought contains a phenomenon called “emotional reasoning”. She assumes that what she is feeling is exactly the way things are. Bob is more enthusiastic and Lisa should indeed be good but only because she has a lot of experience. Unknowingly she thinks that these things are true. In reality it could turn out that people do not perceive Bob as more enthusiastic, and that Lisa is a natural good presenter most people can't match even with more years of experience.

Negative thought patterns are hard to catch in our subjective minds. Knowing common patterns and what they look like can help you to balance out unfair and negative thoughts.

To reduce negative thoughts try to reflect on your feelings every day. Rather than dwell on thoughts try to write them down and look at them later on the day. It can also help to distance yourself from your own thoughts and describe events as if from a neutral person from the outside.

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