Last week, using the example of how a tinted window fooled me into thinking it was a gloomy day, I explained how belief drives emotions and actions. In my case, my belief was that I was going to get wet and that made me feel anxious so I ran (action) out the door and into the parking lot. Since my thinking was faulty, so were my feelings and behavior. I may have looked odd running out of the sliding doors that day, but there was no real harm done. But what might be the impact of stinkin' thinkin' if the stakes were different? For instance, let's use the example of a husband and wife talking about how to spend some discretionary money.
Belief (distorted): She's out to get everything she can. She doesn't know how to handle money.
Feelings: Guarded, suspicious, angry, condescending.
Actions: End the conversation, insist on one's on way, snap, swear or treat her rudely.
Now let's look at the same two people having a conversation about money, but this time without the burden of distorted beliefs:
Belief: We're in this together. We'll figure out what to do.
Feelings: Respectful, hopeful.
Actions: Negotiate, listen to her opinion, and work towards a mutually satisfying resolution.
It's the same people, the same issue, but such different results-just like the difference in my behavior when I thought it was raining and then went outside and realized it was a nice day. The big trick about distorted thinking, though, is that it's harder to recognize than simply walking outside. We have to continually examine our beliefs-what we think about a situation-to determine if those beliefs are reasonable and realistic. Some common examples of stinkin' thinkin' are:
Black & White: Thinking in terms of either/or, no compromise.
Mind reading: Presuming you know what others are thinking or feeling without checking it out.
Awfulizing: Always assuming the "worst-case scenario."
Emotional reasoning: Because you feel a certain way about something, then it must be true (I feel lonely, so no one must like me).
Generalizing: Because you had one bad experience, presuming that all similar experiences will turn out the same way ("all teachers dislike me").
If you recognize any of these types of beliefs, change them to something more realistic. For instance, replace "Nothing ever turns out right for me" (awfulizing) with something more sensible, like "Let me wait and see how this turns out" or "I'll try my best." It will make the difference between feeling hopeless and hopeful. It will make the difference between giving up and doing your best. Our mental outlook matters so much to how we feel and act. The good news is that we can cultivate more positive thinking.
Next week I'll conclude with a few personal thoughts about stinkin' thinkin'.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.