Clearly, being mentally ill has a huge effect on how you feel. But then so too does how you think. Most of us accept our thoughts as unquestionably true, especially when we’re not well. The fact that we could question our thoughts actually came as quite a surprise to me when I first read about it.
Some people refer to this as positive thinking but for me that conjures up thoughts of fast cars, faster women and gold-plated bathroom fixtures. So forget about positive, let’s talk about objective thinking. I for example, have the ability to worry about anything. I could worry for Australia.
But when I think of them in an objective way I often find I have nothing really to worry about. Not that that immediately stops me from being anxious but at least it’s a good start.
As mentioned, most of us accept as our thoughts as facts when most of them are actually anything but. You fancy a colleague in the accounts department (if that’s PC in your organisation) and want to ask them out. Immediately the floodgates open.
What if they laugh in my face? What if he really fancies Sally from procurement? What if she thinks I’m too short, tall, weird, ugly, fat, skinny or boring? And so it goes. Rarely do we allow ourselves the luxury of thinking, Hey, I really like them, maybe they’ll like me too. This could be great.
Okay, asking someone out is a big deal and a little worry is natural so how about this? Your boss asks if you’d like to meet for a coffee tomorrow morning. Oh God, what have I done? Is she unhappy with my work? Is she going to give me a warning? Does she know it was me who glued her coffee cup to her desk or stole the banana off her desk when I was working late three months ago?
You fret, sleep fitfully and struggle to summon up much enthusiasm when at coffee the next day, she says she’s so impressed with your work she’d like you to make a presentation to some international visitors in a few weeks time. Your reaction will probably go something like this:
Oh God, I hate presenting
I’ll stuff up
People will laugh
I’ll never be able to face my workmates again
Instead, what if you thought:
Wow, my boss thinks I’m great
I hate presenting but then so do most people do
Clearly my boss thinks I’m up to it otherwise why would she ask me?
Hey, I might be good and it could be fun
It might help my career
WTF, I’ll give it a go
I know the above is a fairly obvious example but most of us underestimate our own abilities while overestimating everyone else’s. We tell ourselves we’re no good while convincing ourselves everyone else is so much better. Fact is, this is your mind lying to you.
Look around you. Your colleagues aren’t geniuses, they’re just average people like you and me, many of whom share the same fears you and I do. So give yourself a break.
And on those occasions when your mind tries to take control and convince you that you’re as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike, try this little exercise: Imagine your mind is actually another person standing beside you telling you you’re useless. You’re ugly, incompetent, dumber than others, unpopular etc.
I don’t know about you but I reckon after about two minutes I’d be asking that person to shut the hell up and get out of my sight. So why accept this sort of muck from your own mind when you wouldn’t take it from another person?
Finally, do you ever have those days when you feel a little anxious but you just can’t put your finger on why? Well I’d say that in quite a few of these cases your thoughts are niggling away over things you’ve failed to previously act upon. Perhaps, for example, you have a large project you’ve been postponing, an uncomfortable call you need to make or a diet you need to start.
The trick, of course, to ridding yourself of the anxiety is to rid yourself of the source of it. Bite the bullet and do whatever you need to do to clear that annoying item off your to-do-list. You’ll feel the relief almost immediately.
For a slightly different take on overcoming negative thoughts visit the brilliantly named Tiny Buddha website: