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Challenge and Replace Irrational Thinking

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Last week you recorded and reviewed a record of how you typically respond to circumstances throughout each day.

The purpose was to discover patterns of thinking and behavior that add unnecessary stress to your life.

Were you surprised by how your thoughts could increase or decrease the stress you had?

As we learned from Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, we make assumptions about the world and ourselves that become unquestionable core beliefs and unbreakable rules by which everything and everyone is evaluated.

Irrational thinking influences how we think and act, how we treat others, our relationships, our attitudes, expectations, and assumptions.

Thought-Belief Distortions

Here is a modified list of thought-belief distortions or irrational thinking that Beck and Ellis developed to help us better understand how our typical responses to life can create problems.

  • Overgeneralization – a single negative event becomes a rule.
  • Mental filtering – we filter out the positive and focus on the negative.
  • Black or White – there is no in-between.
  • Mind reading – we jump to conclusions.
  • We make predictions and act as if they were factual.
  • Failures become catastrophes and successes are minimized as unimportant.
  • Emotions interpret our reality and govern how we must act.
  • Everything is personalized – we are either in control or have no control.

Do you recognize any of these thinking patterns? Remember, with every emotional reaction there is an accompanying thought.

Challenging Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs

Challenge and Replace Irrational Thinking | focuswithmarlene.com

Once we recognize our distorted thoughts and beliefs, we can start challenging them.

Challenging thoughts asks:

  • Why do I believe this is true and who says it is true?
  • How accurate is my thinking given the circumstances and what is actually happening?
  • How can I modify or expand those first initial thoughts and responses?

Here is the example I gave last week of how easy it is to get wrapped up in responses that escalate our stress levels.

Your day started with frustration, trying to get the kids up and ready for school. Those feelings of irritation continued as you battled heavy traffic on your commute to work. You continued to think about how your kids’ disobedience spoiled the remainder of your day. Later in the morning, that irritation turned into anger when you were given an unexpected project to complete before noon. By the time you got home at night, your anger had been simmering all day, and when you hear your spouse’s comments about not having dinner ready, you explode. How dare he put more demands on you?

Unchallenged, that first automatic response at the beginning of the day triggered an on-going irritation that led to more and more anger until by the end of the day you blew up.

Unenforceable rules were broken. Kids should behave and do what they are told. At work, no consideration was given for your workload. People should respect and appreciate you. Everybody is out to get you. Nobody cares. And tomorrow won’t be any different.

Any logical reasoning is filtered out and by the end of the day you were unable to let go and look for ways to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Instead, you continued to hang onto your anger and resentment, which then expanded to other remembered grievances you had. Any proactive thinking was eliminated.

Challenging takes us out of the typical responses that continue to escalate.

We can look for more ways to be proactive. We can roll with the punches and find ways to reverse or modify the effects of the day through laughter or humor. The goal is to return our body to a restful state.

Here is an exercise that can help you experience this difference.

Think back to a difficult situation you encountered.

Close your eyes and create a picture in your mind as vividly as possible of what took place.

Then, review the following questions and write down what you discovered.

  • What was happening?
  • What were you feeling? Example: hurt, angry, guilt, sadness, anxiety, etc.
  • What irrational thinking was involved? There is often a stream of thoughts and recollections that are attached to any event.
  • What core beliefs were affected? Were unbreakable rules broken? They typically include words such as should, must or have to.
  • What assumptions and expectations did you have of yourself or others?
  • What personal doubts or insecurities did you have?

Challenge and Replay

Now replay the situation again and challenge any irrational thinking. Could you expand or reframe the circumstances to broaden your understanding and give you a more positive interpretation?

As you repeat it from this different perspective, how does it feel? Close your eyes and visualize this different response. Allow yourself to feel the difference between the two versions.

Were you able to feel in charge of your response? Did it allow you to let go of your frustrations and irritations? Can you adopt some of this to situations in the future?

We will experience days when everything goes wrong. We will find ourselves getting irritated and upset. But we don’t have to stay in those spaces. We can choose to find a positive way to deal with life’s irritations.

Once a pattern is identified, use the challenging method to put a new one in place.

Marlene Anderson

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