The first part in reframing irrational thinking is, very plainly, being able to recognize it when it’s happening. How can you tell the difference between rational and irrational thinking patterns?
Firstly, it’s important to identify some common irrational thinking patterns:
- Black and white thinking – moving from one extreme to another without spending time in the grey area.
Example: “I ALWAYS fail. No one will EVER love me.”
- Fortune Telling – thinking we know what is going to happen in the future.
Example: “I will likely be in this job and unhappy for the rest of my life and I have to learn to accept that is my fate.”
- Overgeneralizing – making sweeping generalizations about the way things are.
Example: “If I go to that event, no one is going to talk to me because no one ever talks to me. I am invisible.”
- Over-personalizing – the tendency to think that all the things in the outside world are about you.
Example: “Did you see the way they looked at me? They think I’m out to lunch!”
- Not seeing any positives – spending an overwhelming amount of time in a negative and dark mindset with no space for any light.
Example: “Nothing will ever get better; nothing will ever change. What’s the point?!”
Do any of these seem familiar to you? Do you fall into any of these negative thinking patterns?
The second part in reframing irrational thinking is to notice – without judgement – when it happens. Do you notice I said when and not if! That was intentional! I have not yet met a human who does not, at least sometimes, spend time in a negative thinking pattern.
CATCH IT – WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.
“Hmm… that’s interesting that my mind went there – how did I even get here?”
“I think that might be an irrational thought.”
“Irrational thought – I see you hiding there in the folds of my neocortex. Come on out here, you sneaky one you!”
We have identified some common irrational thinking patterns us humans can experience.
We have identified the importance of CATCHING those thoughts without judgement.
We need to CHALLENGE these thoughts.
How we challenge them depends on which pattern we fall into. Also, I love using humour to break the tension that often is present when we are working to change these patterns.
- Black and white thinking – Imagine a big flag being waved whenever you hear yourself say or think words that denote an extreme such as ‘always’ or ‘never’. It is not often the case that something is ‘always’ or ‘never’ true.
- Fortune telling – See yourself thinking you have the one crystal ball in the world that is accurate. Then have a laugh, because such a thing doesn’t exist. “Oh silly me, trying to play fortune teller again!” Ground back into the present and ground back into what you know to be true.
- Overgeneralizing – Remind yourself about the damage generalizations such as stereotypes or gender norms can cause. Just because something is true in one situation or for one person does not mean that is true for other situations.
- Over-personalizing – When we think we have the superpower to have everything in the outside world be about us, we can playfully humble ourselves and remind ourselves we have no idea what is going on for most of the other people in the world. Maybe they are having a rough day or are deep in thought and are not able to connect with us in the way we would like. Playfully remind yourself that all the calamities in the world are also your responsibility! It can remind us not everything is about us!!
- Not seeing any positives – Thoughts are not facts! Plain and simple. Sometimes in our darkest moments, it is hard to see any light. Ask a trusted person in your life to tell you something that they think is wonderful, if you are having trouble. This might remind you there is light in the world, even if you are having difficulty seeing in right now.
Lastly, we CHANGE our thinking patterns.
We must remember to be patient with ourselves and our processes because change often happens incrementally and slowly over time. It is not often the case that we catch ourselves once, do something different and everything changes. It is more typical that we catch ourselves numerous times, create changes numerous times, have set backs and try again.
Be patient as you practice!