Reexamining your thought process can help you develop more realistic self-perception, Elizabeth Bernstein writes for the Wall Street Journal.
Thoughts involve complex patterns of brain activity that reinforce themselves—getting us stuck in familiar loops. The more you think in a certain way, the harder it becomes to change the pattern. That's why it's so difficult to shake off negative thoughts.
But you can shift your thinking with a technique called cognitive reappraisal, helping you "reframe your thoughts constructively, so they are based in reality."
Bernstein offers the following tips for reassessing your thoughts.
Recognize your thoughts
To change the way you think, you first must understand what your thoughts are and where they are coming from. Write down what's bothering you so that you can get to the heart of why you're ruminating. Then you can determine whether your brooding has any basis in reality.
Seek evidence to the contrary
Ruminating often opens up the door to feelings of self-doubt, which can lead you to believe that you've experienced more failure than you really have. Look for evidence in your life of all your successes and write down a list of all the ways in which you have thrived. Take time each day to dump out your negative thoughts in a journal along with evidence refuting those points.
Practice better thinking
Overhauling a pattern of negative, critical thinking takes practice, but it's actually possible to achieve in a relatively short period of time. A 2014 study published the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy found that people who practiced cognitive reappraisals as part of cognitive behavioral therapy experienced significantly fewer negative emotions after 16 weeks.
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Write down your negative thoughts and challenge them with go-to affirmations such as "I am smart" or "I am a good parent."
Talk to an imaginary friend
We tend to be kinder to our friends than we are to ourselves. Practice self-empathy by imagining a friend who is exactly like you in every respect. Help your friend refute his or her negative thoughts with the evidence and affirmations to refute those fallacies.
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If your negative thoughts take you to extremes, go along with it. Agree that yes, you are in fact the biggest loser in the history of the world. You'll realize how ridiculous your self-doubt really is and will maybe even laugh at how absurd you sound.
Redirect negative thoughts
When a pessimistic thought clouds your perception, switch lanes to focus on something more positive or productive. Keep some thoughts on hand that you can use to knock out negativity, such as vacation plans, a hobby you love, or a problem you want to solve at work (Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, 6/13).
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