Quite often, the way we feel about a situation comes from our perception of it. Often that perception is right, but sometimes it isn’t. For instance, sometimes we’re unreasonably harsh with ourselves, or we can jump to wrong conclusion about people’s motives. This can cause problems and make us unhappy, and it can lead us to be unfair to others.

Thought Awareness, Rational Thinking, and Positive Thinking are simple tools that help you turn this around.

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In becoming stressed, people must make two main judgments:

  1. First, they must feel threatened by the situation.
  2. They must judge whether their capabilities and resources are sufficient to meet the threat.

How stressed someone feels depends on how much damage they think the situation can cause them, and how far their resources meet the demands of the situation.

Perception is key to this as (technically) situations are not stressful in their own right. Rather it’s our interpretation of the situation that drives the level of stress that we feel. Quite obviously, sometimes we are right in what we say to ourselves. Some situations may actually be dangerous, and may threaten us physically, socially, or in our career. Here, stress and emotion are part of the “early warning system” that alerts us to the threat from these situations.
Very often, however, we are overly harsh and unjust to ourselves, in a way that we would never be with friends or team members. This, along with other negative thinking, can cause intense stress and unhappiness, and can severely undermine our self-confidence.

Always be aware of your thoughts

You’re thinking negatively when you fear the future, put yourself down, criticize yourself for errors, doubt your abilities, or expect failure. Negative thinking damages your confidence, harms your performance, and paralyzes your mental skills.

pessimisticA major problem with this is that negative thoughts tend to flit into our consciousness, do their damage and flit back out again, with their significance having barely been noticed. Since we do not challenge them, they can be completely incorrect and wrong. However, this does not diminish their harmful effect. Thought Awareness is the process by which you observe your thoughts and become aware of what is going through your head.

One way to become more aware of your thoughts is to observe your stream of consciousness as you think about a stressful situation. Do not suppress any thoughts: instead, just let them run their course while you watch them, and write them down on our free worksheet as they occur.

Another more general approach to Thought Awareness comes with logging stress in a Stress Diary . One of the benefits of using a Stress Diary is that, for one or two weeks, you log all of the unpleasant things in your life that cause you stress. This will include negative thoughts and anxieties, and can also include difficult or unpleasant memories and situations that you perceive as negative.

By logging your negative thoughts for a reasonable period of time, you can quickly see patterns in your negative thinking. When you analyse your diary at the end of the period, you should be able to see the most common and most damaging thoughts. Tackle these as a priority.

Thought awareness is the first step in the process of managing negative thoughts, as you can only manage thoughts that you’re aware of.

Read more in Part 2 – Rational Thinking

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