Want to Change Your Life? Challenge Your Thoughts (Part I)
“Everything can be taken away from man but one thing—the last human freedom, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” ~Viktor Frankl
One of the greatest ironies that I’ve personally experienced in my life, but one that proved to be life changing and transformative is that I was hired to teach a university course in Stress Management when the stress in my life was at an all time peak. Teaching any topic gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the content, and to know and understand it’s true purpose and live by its principles. Teaching Stress Management gave me that opportunity and more. I didn’t just learn to better manage my stress, I learned that my mind is the most powerful tool I have, and that it guides and directs the outcome of any event or situation that I face. I learned that the goal isn’t to avoid stress, because we can’t control much of what comes our way, but rather to take charge of our attitude about the challenges we face. I learned how to teach others the tools to turn adversity into an opportunity, and to grow and learn from our experiences. In doing so I learned how to embrace those tools myself.
Teaching Stress management proved to be cathartic in more ways than one. It got me through the challenges of caring for my mom when she was sick, managing a move across the country for my husband’s job, and helping my teenage daughter through a rough patch. To this day it is still my favorite course to teach.
Over the next two weeks I’m going to share one of the most beneficial techniques that I teach in Stress Management, called Reframing, which teaches us how to change our perception of situations, and also how to rid ourselves of Toxic Thoughts, which can cloud our thinking.
Stress is Perception Stressors come in all shapes and sizes, but we know that it’s not the event or circumstance that’s stressful, it’s ourperception of the situation. What is stressful to me may not be to you, and vice versa. Stress is all about perception, and Toxic Thoughts are negative thoughts that alter our perception. Below I list 10 Toxic Thoughts that all of us have probably been guilty of, that cloud our thinking and prevent us from seeing situations clearly.
10 Toxic Thoughts:
Pessimism- seeing the worst in every situation
Blaming- shifting responsibility onto someone else
Perfectionism- imposing above-human standards on others or ourselves
Polarized Thinking- viewing things in extremes, as good or bad, with no middle ground
Magnifying- blowing problems out of proportion
Over-generalizations- one single negative circumstance manifests into a life sentence. “This always happens to me.” “I’ll never be happy.”
Disqualifying the positive- negative thoughts and beliefs override positive ones. We tune out positive words and situations and focus only on the negative ones
Mental filter- a solitary negative detail becomes the focus, obscuring the bigger picture
Should statements- feeling that one “should” or “must,” which results in one feeling guilt or resentment toward others
Personalizing- taking people and situations personally, blaming ourselves for events that we had little or nothing to do with
Our Mind~ Our Greatest Asset or Our Worst Liability Toxic Thoughts are what I call Mental Sabotage. We face challenges everyday, but the challenges we face often don’t hold a candle to the mindset that we adopt in response. We can allow Toxic Thoughts to cloud our judgment and prevent us from seeking positive solutions, or we can reframe. Reframing is a technique aimed at changing the way we look at situations and altering our perspective from a negative to a more positive approach. Reframing allows us to rid ourselves of Toxic Thoughts.
Your Challenge Next week I’m going to share the steps that teach us how to reframe. In the meantime, try to make it a point this week to recognize the thoughts that pollute your mind and create mental sabotage. Write down the ones you’re most guilty of, and in what situations you’re most inclined to fall back on that way of thinking. You’ll be armed and ready next week we adopt strategies to abolish those thoughts and conquer our challenges.