Challenging Negative Thoughts

As I mentioned at some point (several points) in the past, I have struggled with negative thoughts around my writing in particular, and my life in general. Now, I’m no expert on this subject, but I have experienced feeling like this and have received some training to help me challenge this way of thinking, which is what I want to share today.

Themes | Next Steps | Balanced Thinking | Compassionate Thinking | Recognising Positives | Conclusion

So how do you cope if you look at other people’s work and feel that you don’t measure up? Forget about others, how do you cope when you have a voice in your head telling you that what you’ve written isn’t good (add your own expletives)?

It might be difficult to catch these thoughts, but to aid in that process, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was I doing?
  • Who was I with?
  • What was I telling myself?
  • What is the worst thing that went through my mind?
  • What does it say about me if it’s true?

There are a number of points to bear in mind about these thoughts:

  • They are specific and short
  • They occur quickly after the event
  • They are not a product of careful thought
  • They do not occur logically
  • They seem reasonable at the time.

Themes

You may find there are some themes to your negative thinking:

  • All or nothing thinking – everything is black and what. e.g. I either finish this chapter today or I give up writing.
  • Over generalisation – Thinking that because one thing is true, everything else must also be true. e.g. My last story was below average, so my next one will also be below average.
  • Mental Filter – Pick out one negative aspect and focus on that. e.g. refusing to see anything positive in what you have done that day.
  • Disqualifying the positives – finding a way to reject positive outcome because they ‘don’t count’ in some way. e.g. ignoring a positive outcome because in contradicts your everyday experience.
  • Jumping to conclusions – interpreting things negatively without any supporting facts; mind reading, thinking thoughts of others without any proof; fortune telling, assuming things will go badly.
  • Catastrophising – exaggerating things. e.g. several spelling errors in a first draft means the book is terrible.
  • Emotional reasoning – assume your negative emotions reflect reality. eg. I feel lie a failure, therefore I must be one.
  • Should / must statements – setting standards that might be unrealistic. e.g. I should write seven hours a day.
  • Labelling – A form of over generalising e.g. instead of describing a specific error, you label yourself ‘a loser’.
  • Personalising – you see yourself as the cause of some negative event that is out of your control. e.g. I’m to blame for not writing more, when in fact I have MS (not my fault).

So you’ve identified these thoughts. Now what?

A good starting point might be to look for evidence for and against the assertion. This is a good way to look at not just the evidence in favour of your negative thought, but also against it.

e.g. my writing output is too low. It means I’m a terrible author.
Evidence for:
* I’m only hitting 700 words a day, sometimes every other day.
Evidence against:
* I have a family now
* My day job is very demanding at the moment
* My health is not good right now

If you were to ask another person, how would they see the situation? Is there another way of looking at it?

Balanced Thinking

  • More balanced thinking can improve your mood and help you function better, or see the situation in a different light.
  • Your opinions of yourself are just thoughts; you do not need to have any scientific evidence to have them. Just because you thought it, doesn’t make it true.
  • Actual hard evidence is stronger, as it leaves no doubt. It is objective and difficult to disprove.

This evidence based approach is not aimed at taking you from one way to its polar opposite – all negative to all positive – it is more about creating a more realistic way of thinking:

So here, I started with my negative thought – everyone thinks I write terribly – and I looked at the other extreme – I’m the best author ever – and used some evidence to end up somewhere between those two extremes.

Imagine a court case: the defendant says he’s not guilty because ‘I didn’t do it,’ but the prosecution provides witnesses, CCTV footage and photographs, who do you believe? The opinion or the evidence?

Compassionate Thinking

Looking at your negative thoughts, are there more compassionate ways to think about them?

Negative ThoughtCompassionate Response
I’ll never be a good authorI am learning, and I will continue to strive be be better than I was last week
I’m uselessI’m struggling on this one particular task, not all of them
What’s the point in trying?I’m the point. I enjoy writing and deserve to be happy
I can’t do thisI need to seek help with this task, either from a friend, one of the many helpful people on the internet, or a guide book

Recognising Positives

We’re all very good at focussing on the things we’ve done poorly or incorrectly. Try spending a few minutes at the end of each day to come up with the things you have done that were positive, no matter how small. For example, for me today (23rd December at time of writing):

What didn’t go wellWhat was positive today?
I didn’t write any fictionI wrote and scheduled this blog post
I didn’t draw anythingI prepared an evening meal for my family
I can’t type. My fingers don’t workI wrapped all my Christmas presents
I drove my wife to work
I read three chapters of a book
I cleaned the kitchen

Now you may look at some of my achievements and this ‘that’s nothing’, but those things are more challenging with my disability and the fact that I am still sat at my keyboard at this time (4pm) is quite an achievement for me!

My point is that your positives do not have to be a[]][[bout your writing. They can be anything, of any size. When you look back on your day, there will be more positives than you realise.

Spend 5 minutes and look at the positives:
* Did you write that chapter?
* Did you hit your word count?
* Did you write a good paragraph?
* Did you sit down at your keyboard?
* What else have you achieved today (no matter how small)?

Conclusion

Tackling this kind of thinking is not easy, but with practice you can learn to recognise the positives and using evidence you can begin to challenge the negative thoughts as they occur.

I’ve been practising this way of thinking for a long time and it’s not easy. I don’t get it right every day and often I have to come back to this training for a refresh on how I should be tackling these thoughts.

You can do it too.

person thinking

My question to you:

Have you ever faced similar challenges? How did you cope?

2 thoughts on “Challenging Negative Thoughts

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