Negative thinking

How much time do we spend worrying about things that haven’t happened yet?  How many sleepless nights do we spend having irrational thoughts, thinking about what might happen?

Here is a recent story of mine to highlight what a waste of time worrying about the future is.  As you will know if you read my last blog post, I recently took a group of 50 people to the USA.  We flew from London to Washington, had a 90-minute lay over before our internal flight to Dayton.  If you are a regular visitor to the USA you will know that you have to clear customs and immigration at the first point of landing (so Washington in this case) – that means queuing to get through immigration, waiting for our baggage to be delivered, rechecking bags and then changing terminal to get the next flight.  For a good number of months I worried that 90 minutes wasn’t long enough and I played through a number of (irrational) scenarios that ‘would’ happen – including missing our flight and spending a number of days trying to get 50 people on alternative flights.  You can imagine the worry and lose of sleep this negative thinking caused me – I even researched so I knew what the next flights were!  In the end we got through immigration and customs really quickly (since we were the first international flight of the day to land), raced to the new terminal to find out the next flights was delayed!  I had worried about lots of scenarios but certainly not this one!

I was with a client yesterday who says he often lays awake at night worrying about work – I relayed my story above to explain how poorly this negative thnking serves us and how sometimes this irrational thinking can create the reality we really don’t want.

The vicious triangle

The key point here is that negative thinking leads to negative feelings. When we have emotions then the thought suddenly starts to feel real. These negative feelings (worry, anger, upset etc.) in turn lead to negative behaviours and these behaviours perpetuate further negative thoughts. This is how we can quickly create the reality of our initial irrational worry – which is the exact opposite of what we want to have happen!

So this becomes a battle between the emotional and rational sides of us, the trouble is the emotional side usually wins unless we employ some good strategies to ensure it doesn’t. So I teach my clients a few techniques to deal with this:

  • Use distraction – we can only consciously think of one thing at once, so if you don’t want this negative thought to occupy our mind, distract yourself and think of something else
  • Have your rational side have a conversation with your emotional side – ask yourself ‘What evidence do I have to support this negative thought?” Usually the answer is none.
  • Write down your negative thought so it’s out of your head but not forgotten. You can then deal with it in the cold light of day (which usually means rereading what you wrote and seeing it in black and white diminishing its value and importance)

The only thing we should really worry about is what is happening in the present. Worrying about what might happen in the future is a waste of time and worrying about the past will not change it.

If you have something on your mind, get in touch for a chat.

 

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