This programme complements the programme on self-talk, so if you haven’t yet listened to that programme it would be beneficial to do so.
In the self-talk programme we looked at our inner voice, discussing the importance of being aware of the types of talk and the questions we must ask ourselves.
We explored how, by simply changing the talk and specifically the questions, we can improve our levels of confidence, motivation, and well-being.
In this programme, we take a detailed look at the most common things we might say to ourselves when we’re using negative self-talk – and specifically what we call thinking errors or irrational thoughts.
We’ll also explore some of the links between your self-talk and anxiety and depression – topics we explore in-depth in other programmes.
Negative or irrational thinking and anxiety
It’s well known that people are affected by, and respond to in totally different ways to similar or even the same events; in fact, you might respond differently to the same event on different days depending what else is going on in your life at the time, and what else is on your mind.
Take for example a day when Jane, a parent, has a child who is unwell, and she is trying to sort things out with a doctor’s appointment – her friend, Sue passes by and mentions something that would normally irritate her – but Jane, although she clearly hears the comment, completely ignores it, carries’ on with getting her child sorted and pretty much forgets it.
Jane’s self-talk may have well revolved around –
“My daughter’s condition is important – let me sort out what I need to do”
and Sue’s comment, even though Jane heard and acknowledged it, is deemed irrelevant at this time.
It becomes what I referred to earlier as ‘noise’.
On another occasion, when the two ladies are having a coffee, the same comment might be interpreted by Jane totally differently and be taken in either an offensive way or a way that brings on a negative reaction or thought.
These scenarios happen all the time with different interactions, at home, work and play.
Your response or reaction to anything is directly related to the way you interpret the event within the context of what else is happening to you at the time – your perception of what happened and what it meant to you.
Imagine a scenario where a tennis player is playing and sees her coach start to talk to her parents – the player might think straight away that they the parents and coach are discussing a shot she just missed and perhaps how she might lose matches after such an error – as a consequence of this thought, the player starts worrying and misses the next few shots and eventually loses the match convincingly.
When speaking with her parents afterwards the player asks what they were talking about and they explain that the coach asked if they’d watched d a programme on TV the previous night – the player’s distraught! And this really happened with one of my clients.
Now, imagine another player seeing the same thing and thinking that the coach is telling the parents how well she has trained and overcome mistakes and challenges in her session this week. In this case, this player is more energised and goes on to win the match comfortably.
The same scenario – a totally different outcome – why? – Because in each example the players made an assumption that led to an emotional response – in fact, both assumptions were wrong.
But, crucially, one assumption made the player feel in a bad mood, and the other made the player feel in a good frame of mind.
These are classic examples of thinking errors –
At this point, I would say that if you are going to make an assumption make it the positive one – you’ll feel much better for it, even if that assumption was wrong!
Note that in the tennis player example, the event was exactly the same, but because it was interpreted or perceived differently, the way each player felt was completely different.
I was recently going to an event and started thinking about someone I didn’t want to see and wondering how I might confront him if I did see him. Literally, within moments I had pictured so many negative scenarios I was actually getting angry, annoyed and frustrated –and had to remind myself that the person was most unlikely to be there in – and in fact, he wasn’t.
These examples clearly show the links between thinking and feeling – and how, what we say to ourselves following an event or even a thought, can lead to certain negative emotions – which subsequently affect how we behave.
How many times have you jumped to the wrong conclusion when something happens to you or more to the point when you thought something might happen to you?
Negative Thoughts and Depressed Moods
When people feel depressed, they have particular ways of thinking about themselves, others and the world, that can further trigger or worsen the experience of depression.
So depression can cause them to think very negatively. This thinking is very often both unfair and unrealistic.
The thinking is unfair because negative events are given much more significance than positive ones, or the positive ones are ignored pretty much completely.
This also means that most of the time the way of thinking is totally unrealistic and so things seem much worse than they actually are and take on either a bigger meaning than they should or a totally incorrect meaning as in the case of our tennis players or my own personal experience, earlier.
This unfair and unrealistic thinking affects the way we make sense of events and situations. For example, you might:
Think in a very critical fashion and judge yourself in a harsh and unfair manner. The so-called ‘bad’ things you’ve done become very obvious to you, and conversely, you have a hard time remembering anything good.
This type of thinking is typified by self-talk such as
“I am so useless, I’m just a complete failure”
You might often see life in an unrealistically pessimistic way, emphasising the negative things or threatening aspects and ignoring more positive or promising events.
Self-talk here is typically along the lines
“My situation is terrible and there is nothing I can do about it”
You might see a future that is bleak and disappointing and you expect the worst to happen.
Self-talk here is along the line of :
“This will never get better – it will probably only get worse”
These thoughts are unhelpful because they aren’t accurate thoughts about you, the current situation, and the future.
They’re also automatic; they seem to appear out of nowhere and are not the result of reasoning or decision-making.
Sometimes they are so automatic that they’re difficult to spot.
Unfortunately, these thoughts can also be very believable – and, as a result, there seems to be very little reason to doubt them.
So to summarise this module we’ve started looking at the way you think and what we call thinking errors
– these are typified by the way we speak to ourselves –
we saw how much our negative talk can almost be on autopilot and we end up believing these thoughts because we say them so often.
By understanding these errors and the consequence of this way of thinking, you’ll start to check your self-talk and attach different and more useful meaning to what happens to you.
As a consequence of challenging these thoughts and starting to think more rationally, you will take great strides towards improving your general well-being.
In the next module, we start to look at the different types of thinking errors.
Your MYND activity today
I’d like you to start analysing the way you think and the things you say to yourself when certain events happen,
– try to see what thinking errors you might make and how you can change your self-talk to try and counteract that way of thinking.
In particular, notice the most common negative thoughts that you think about – whether they’re thoughts about you, colleagues or the world in general – by the end of this programme, you’ll have plenty of skills to stop the negative and irrational thoughts and you’ll be able to replace them with thoughts that not only enhance your confidence but will lead to better life satisfaction and well-being.