Here’s How You Show Your Mind Who’s Boss

Minds can be frustrating. Sometimes we have distracting or destructive thoughts when we’d like nothing more than to flip a switch and turn our minds off after a long day. I don’t care whose mind you’re referencing, the “greatest hits” of annoying thoughts seem to be about the same for everyone: “Worry about an upcoming responsibility!” or “I’m agonizing over what another person thinks about me!” or “Criticize myself for feeling bad or not living up to a personal standard!”

If your mind seems to be more of an adversary than an ally, perhaps you’ve tried some of these things to win the war:

  • Think about daisies and puppies or something else less threatening
  • Invent new, tougher thoughts to defeat the thought bullies
  • Eat cake, drink beer, take naps, or exercise until your legs fall off and hope those thoughts go away
  • Be a “positive” thinker, despite evidence to the contrary—that not everything is so positive

These things might help for a little while, but no matter which mental marathon you’re willing to run, the annoying thoughts will probably outlast you. The good news is that there are some evidence-based cognitive and behavioral strategies you can use to cope more effectively when your mind’s playing tricks on you.

Here are my three favorite options for dealing with annoying thoughts that have way too much power over how we feel and what we do:

Restructure exaggerations. If you think that a project or an exam will be “brutal,” that “everybody” is mean, that you’re “a failure” if you’re not able to achieve something, or that you “hate” family functions, then congratulations—at least your thinking is economical.

The problem with this way of thinking is that, by ignoring subtle aspects of situations, you’re limiting your emotional and behavioral options. If you think in absolutes, predict the worst, and overstate the negative elements of your experiences, you’re likely to struggle with intense depression, anxiety, and anger. And this type of thinking might also lead to predictable patterns of behavior—passivity, avoidance, or explosiveness.

If you can catch destructive thoughts, you might ask yourself a series of questions to promote cognitive flexibility. What’s the evidence for and against this idea? Is it possible that another perspective is more accurate? Am I exaggerating or predicting the worst? Is there a more realistic way of thinking? How do I feel when I think this way? How do I feel when I think in more realistic ways?

Continue reading the full article: Psychology Today


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