Throughout the day, you are constantly unconsciously thinking about events you have experienced. Sometimes these thoughts are positive, sometimes they are negative. How you think about these events affects how you feel, and these feelings play a role in how you behave. By challenging thoughts, you try to investigate how thoughts influence your feelings and behaviour. You also check whether your way of thinking is realistic and appropriate for the event. Thought Challenging offers a tool to counteract negative thoughts and reduce tension in our lives. Its exact working is explained below.
1. What proof is there for my thoughts?
Do the facts of the situation support your thoughts, or do the facts contradict your thoughts? Find out what evidence there is both for and against your thoughts. For example:“I don’t think the neighbour likes me.”What facts are there that support your thought? “He didn’t respond when I waved at him.” And what facts contradict your thought? “He says good-day when I walk past his house.”
2. Could there possibly by other perspectives considering the event?
There are several ways to view your experiences. Could you look at what happened from a different perspective? Try to come up with as many alternatives as possible. If you consider all these alternatives objectively, which one is the most realistic? Example of alternatives: “It was busy on the road, maybe he didn’t see me”, “He might be caught up in his own thoughts and not paying attention.”
3. What is the effect of my way of thinking?
How do your thoughts influence your feelings and behaviour? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this way of thinking? Am I going to feel better because of these thoughts or do they have a negative influence on how I feel?
4. What mistakes do I make?
Thinking errors are thoughts that do not correspond to reality. The enumeration below shows an overview of the most common fallacies. Do you recognize one or more thinking errors when looking at yourself?
- All-or-nothing thinking: you see things too black and white. If you don’t perform perfectly, you see yourself as a total failure.
- Overgeneralization: you see a single negative event as an endless pattern of failures. For example, think about getting a bad grade. Example: “I have failed. I might as well quit school now!”
- Selective attention: you focus so much on one negative detail, that your overall view of reality turns black, like a drop of ink that darkens a glass of water.
- Ignoring the Positive: all positive experiences ‘don’t count’ for some reason. The glass is half empty instead of half full.
- Hasty conclusions: you have a negative perspective on certain things while there are no facts to support your conclusion, for example by reading thoughts; you conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you without checking whether this is what the person intended.
- Predicting the future: you predict that certain things will go wrong and you are convinced that your prediction is a fact.
- Emphasise or understating: you emphasise your mistakes and/or someone else’s successes. Or you understate things, such as your own qualities or someone else’s flaws.
- Emotional reasoning:you assume that your negative emotions reflect reality. “I feel it, so it must be true.”
- Box thinking: this is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your mistake, you put yourself in a box: “I’m a loser”. And if you don’t like someone else’s behaviour, you put that person in a box: “He’s a goddamn bastard”. Such statements are often accompanied by very coloured and emotionally charged language.
- Personalization: you see yourself as the cause of a negative event for which you were not actually responsible. For example, “The butcher was blunt to me, so I must have done something wrong”.