The next step in dealing with negative thinking is to challenge the negative thoughts that you identified using the Thought Awareness technique. Look at every thought you wrote down and rationally challenge it. Ask yourself whether the thought is reasonable, and does it stand up to fair scrutiny?
As an example, by analysing your Stress Diary you might identify that you have frequently had the following negative thoughts:
- Feelings of inadequacy.
- Worries that your performance in your job will not be good enough.
- An anxiety that things outside your control will undermine your efforts.
- Worries about other people’s reactions to your work.
Starting with these, you might challenge these negative thoughts in the ways shown:
- Feelings of inadequacy: Have you trained and educated yourself as well as you reasonably should to do the job? Do you have the experience and resources you need to do it? Have you planned, prepared and rehearsed appropriately? If you’ve done all of this, then you’ve done everything that you should sensible do. If you’re still worried, are you setting yourself unattainably high standards for doing the job
- Worries about performance: Do you have the training that a reasonable person would think is needed to do a good job? Have you planned appropriately? Do you have the information and resources that you need? Have you cleared the time you need, and cued up your support team appropriately? Have you prepared thoroughly? If you haven’t, then you need to do these things quickly. If you have, then you are well positioned to give the best performance that you can.
- Problems with issues outside your control: Have you conducted appropriate contingency planning? Have you thought through and managed all likely risks and contingencies appropriately? If so, you will be well prepared to handle potential problems.
- Worry about other people’s reactions: If you have put in good preparation, and you do the best you can, then that is all that you need to know. If you perform as well as you reasonably can, and you stay focused on the needs of your audience, then fair people are likely to respond well. If people are not fair, then this is something outside your control.
Don’t make the mistake of generalizing a single incident. OK, you made a mistake at work, but that doesn’t mean that you’re bad at your job.
Similarly, make sure you take the long view about incidents that you’re finding stressful. Just because you’re finding new responsibilities stressful now, doesn’t mean that they will always be stressful in the future.
Often, the best thing to do is to rise above unfair comments. Write your rational response to each negative thought in the Rational Thought column on the worksheet.
If you find it difficult to look at your negative thoughts objectively, imagine that you are your best friend or a respected coach or mentor. Look at the list of negative thoughts. Imagine that they were written down by someone you were giving objective advice to, and think about how you’d challenge these thoughts.
When you challenge negative thoughts rationally, you should be able to see quickly whether the thoughts are wrong, or whether they have some substance to them. Where there is some substance, take appropriate action. In these cases, negative thinking has given you an early warning of action that you need to take.