• Ashleigh Kendall

Unhelpful thinking habits and how to unhook from them

Our lived experiences and mental health and wellness can influence our thinking habits and sabotage our wellbeing. Over time, these habits either negative, or positive, can influence how we view the world and what we do with our lives. It is entirely possible to make new pathways in the brain and allow the old, unhelpful ones to fade. Here are a few unhelpful thinking patterns to be aware of and ways you can unhook and reprogram your mind to improved wellbeing. 

Remember if you are at risk in any way then please reach out and seek help from a qualified health professional. You don't have to do this alone!

Psychologists identify cognitive distortion (unhelpful thinking pattern) as thinking of a truth in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of reality. This way of thinking is unhelpful because it perpetuates levels of anxiety and depression and it can be really hard work to get out of that spiral. 

One example of this would be someone who has experienced a personal trauma may find it hard to trust people and let them into their lives. They might notice a friend hasn’t been in touch as often as normal and their filter will lead them to believe that they have done something wrong, or the friend doesn't care. Another example is you may start to experience increased levels of anxiety about something and the thoughts will focus on the anxiety and negatives instead of realising you have coped with this in the past and knowing you have the skills to pull yourself out of it. This is the mental filter drowning out any positive or rational explanations and only lets in negatives. One way to think of this is thinking of the glass being half empty. Negative thoughts become intensified. 

Below is a list of a few distortions that you might be able to relate to:

  • Negative predicting - thinking only negative things are going to happen in the future, not being able to see things going your way or expecting things will go wrong.

  • Unrelenting high standards - raising your standards in order to isolate yourself and avoid potential distress. You can’t fail, or nothing bad will happen to you if you don’t try or open yourself up to trying.

  • Black and white thinking - there is no middle ground, it is either one or the other, when actually in reality we are often required to walk the middle ground and live with balance. 

  • Entitlement - while others need to follow the rules, those rules don’t necessarily apply to you when you are thinking with this filter. 

  • Blaming - holding others accountable for your own short falls instead of taking responsibility for your own actions and wellbeing. 

  • Critical self - the opposite of blaming in many ways. Instead of assigning responsibly to others for their actions, you blame yourself for everything and beat yourself up for any thing that might not work out, even when it is outside of your control. 

  • Catastrophising - being aware of all the possibilities of things going wrong and then expecting the worst to happen. This is also relatable to the black and white thinking filter. 

  • Mind reading - this is when you may be missing some information about a situation and your mind works to fill in the missing pieces, many people with anxiety will have experienced this. Often filling in the blanks yourself isn't accurate and our mind will want to assume the worst. Your mind might tell you that other people are judging you or looking down on you and without any investigation or evidence you believe it. Disturbing and damaging your self esteem and confidence to try new things. 

  • Emotional reasoning - letting your emotions take over and dictate your level of threat. You might start to feel anxious about something and then your mind takes over and you may begin to feel as if you are in danger. 

Mind over mood - switching off from the cognitive distortions

It is entirely possible to unhook/ defuse from this negative spiral and get back to a healthier way of thinking.

  • Identify your thoughts (cognitive distortions) and make a list of the most troublesome and loudest ones. 

  • Ask yourself what evidence there is to support these thoughts. Write those down and challenge them honestly. Where have these thoughts come from and on what basis do they exist. 

  • Acknowledge the evidence you collect throughout your day that does not support the negative thoughts. Hold onto those as you let go of the evidence that has been manufactured in your thinking. 

  • Ask your trusted supporters about these thoughts and their accuracy. 

  • Unhook. When you notice your negative filter getting louder or more demanding, note the thought and avoid hooking into the story. It is okay for the thought to be present but you don’t have to get involved with it any further. It is just a thought and it doesn't necessarily represent the truth. A metaphor for this is if you were sitting on the side of the road watching traffic go by, you wouldn't leap out in front of a car to stop it. Your thoughts are the cars and you don’t need to leap into it to stop it. You can watch it come and go without involving yourself with it. 

With some time and some hard work, it is possible to change the channel of radio doom and gloom and be able to change your thinking patterns to better serve you and contribute to healthy thinking.