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Thought Distortions

One of the questions clients frequently ask me is, What is the best way to change your thoughts? In other words, how do you get rid of thoughts you don’t want running through your mind? If you take the time to analyze your unwanted thoughts, you will often discover that they are based on distortions of reality. Finding ways to eliminate these “Thought Distortions” can take many forms. Over the years, I have used several methods but some of the ones I’ve found most effective have been self-hypnosis, sleep programming, meditation, and even something I call “Hypnology” which you may find fun to investigate and experience for yourself. (There is a FREE product titled Provocative Destiny on my website if you would like to explore the concept of “Hypnology” which involves using your musical intelligence to reprogram your subconscious mind. It’s an extremely powerful way to change your thinking. Just click HERE for your FREE copy!)

The challenge to eliminating your unwanted thoughts, however, is that you first have to figure out what thoughts you need to eliminate. So let me begin by telling you about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which was developed by the American psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960’s. Beck originally used Freudian Psychoanalysis with his patients but as a researcher and scientist, he decided to put psychoanalysis to the test. Unfortunately, those tests he conducted did not produce the results he was expecting which is what lead him to start developing and testing other methods.

As you might imagine, Beck was not originally applauded for challenging accepted beliefs and practices but as other colleagues began trying his methods, Beck was vindicated and eventually regarded as an important pioneer in the field of psychiatry.

The essence of what Beck discovered is that negative thoughts fall into three categories: negative ideas about the self, negative ideas about the world, and negative thoughts about the future. For many people, these negative thoughts become automatic over time so they are no longer even questioned. But when Beck began questioning patients about their thoughts and pointing out various inaccuracies or distortions, patients could recognize their faulty thinking and choose new thoughts. As simple as it sounds, it was revolutionary at the time and it still remains a major part of psychiatry today. It is especially significant in the treatment of depression. I find it one of the best tools available to clarify one’s thinking about anything.

Read the next section on thought distortions to see if you can uncover any in your own thinking. I think it is safe to say that we all have thought distortions, but we can eliminate them by recognizing and acknowledging them, and by beginning to ask better questions to get to the truth.

The key is learn to rise above thought distortions which always fall into those three main categories I mentioned—i.e., negative thoughts that are personal, pervasive, and permanent. The good news is that with clear, rational thinking you can spot these. However, it’s always recommended to brainstorm what you are thinking about with a coach, mentor, counselor, or doctor to get real unbiased feedback.

THE COGNITIVE TRIAD

  1. The Self – Is the self worthless or valuable? (Personal)
  2. The World/Environment – Is the world unfair, fair, or neutral? (Pervasive)
  3. The Future – Is the future hopeless or hopeful? (Permanent)

Again, the most challenging problems are the ones that we convince ourselves are personal, pervasive, and permanent. Put those on your list to be eliminated.

TYPES OF THOUGHT DISTORTIONS

All-Or-Nothing Thinking

  • Engaging in black-or-white thinking. Thinking in extremes, such as all good or all bad, with nothing in the middle.

Selective Abstraction

  • Selecting one idea or fact from an event while ignoring other facts in order to support negative thinking.

Mind Reading

  • Believing that we know the thoughts in another person’s mind.

Negative Prediction

  • Believing that something bad is going to happen even though there is no evidence to support this prediction.

Catastrophizing

  • Exaggerating the potential or real consequences of an event and becoming fearful of the consequences.

Overgeneralization

  • Making a rule based on a few negative or isolated events and then applying it broadly.

Labeling

  • Creating a negative view of oneself based on errors or mistakes that one has made. This is a type of overgeneralizing which affects one’s view of oneself.

Magnification

  • Exaggerating an imperfection into something greater than it is.

Minimization

  • Making a positive event much less important than it really is.

Personalization

  • Taking a common or general event and relating it to oneself thus making a connection where one really doesn’t exist.

I’ve found this list of Thought Distortion Types to be extremely valuable for myself and my clients as a reference guide to help spot thoughts you are thinking that are not good for you, not good for others, and don’t serve the greater good. More importantly, since they are Thought Distortions, they are not true. And I believe that all progress starts with telling yourself the truth. Or as an old mentor said to me one day: “Robert, you might as well start with the truth because you are going to end with it.” Sage advice indeed.

 

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This Masquerade

I find myself fascinated with what’s happened since I wrote my last blog post entitled “Sabbatical” on February 1, 2020. My personal intention was to take some time off from work so I could re-evaluate my life and what I’ve been able to accomplish in my first 6 decades on the planet. The plan was to step back from the day-to-day momentum of my personal and professional life and examine who and what I have become during my short ride on this spinning blue island in space.

Who would have guessed what would happen next? Just days after my decision to take an extended sabbatical, the whole world (in one way, shape, or form) would also go on a sabbatical of sorts.

I’m sure it’s fair to say that Covid-19 surprised you as much as it did me and the rest of the world. It’s become a once in a generation event that has literally reshaped life on earth as we know it.

I’ve been stunned by what’s happened with the Covid-19 situation, not to mention everything else that’s taken place. For example, I find myself thinking about the many plagues of the past and what our ancestors must have gone through to survive. Surely we have many additional resources these days, but this pandemic has been challenging for each and every one of us. It’s certainly not anything I ever wanted to experience but, like with all challenges, there are definitely things that can be learned from it.

During this time of lockdown and isolation, I’ve probably learned more about myself, my family, my neighbors, and the world around me than I ever thought possible, both good things and bad. However, my primary focus on sabbatical has been learning more about the best ways to gather up what I’ve learned in life so I can invest it into my future. I’ve been placing a special emphasis on music which was once a primary focus of my life.

As a teenager I dreamed of being a jazz musician and a College Music Professor. For a number of reasons, my life didn’t go in that direction. But this sabbatical taught me that I have some unfinished business with music. What’s interesting is that my sabbatical has allowed me the freedom to reawaken passions that I left behind to make a living. For me, a sabbatical is not about making a living, it’s about designing a life or focusing on a project, like doing research or writing a new program or book. So the first thing I did was find some new mentors, including some new music mentors, since one of my goals involved getting back into playing music again.

Over the years, I studied with many wonderful mentors in music as well as many other disciplines. During the pandemic, I started studying again with some music mentors. And it was during a mentoring session that I thought how interesting it would be to include a song to go along with one of my future Blog Posts. And as I thought about it a bit more, I decided that the perfect song to start with was “This Masquerade.” (I’ve attached a recording of me playing the song on tenor saxophone. It’s a work in progress!)

One reason I chose the song “This Masquerade” was because of the obvious connection with the masks we are having to wear during the pandemic to stay safe. Another reason I chose it is because of the song’s lyrics that speak to the topic of hiding who we are by wearing masks and pretending to be different than we are.

While I was recording the tracks for this song in my home studio, I thought a lot about the kinds of masks I wear as well as the ones I need to get rid of. Perhaps you’ll get some insight into your masks by listening to my recording. (If you’d like to hear the lyrics, I’d suggest listening to George Benson’s original version of the song. It’s outstanding!)

Here’s my version: THIS MASQUERADE!

 

If you listen to my recording, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind while listening:

  1. Notice how the song starts very softly and quietly, almost whispering. It makes me think about how everything seemed completely fine in early 2020 but then, in a matter of a day or two, everything changed. In music we say “the tone changed!”
  2. Notice the many areas of struggle represented in the song. Notes are bending, high notes are sometimes almost screaming for attention, and yet the song keeps moving forward much like life.
  3. Listen for the place in the song near the end where I start reaching for higher and higher notes as if trying to escape. I finally go way above the normal register of the instrument in an effort to rise above what’s happening.
  4. Lastly, pay attention to the very end of the song. What’s the last thing you hear? Do you hear a piano, a guitar, a saxophone, or just a breath of air? And if you hear a whisper of air, what does that mean to you? What reason might I have had to end that way? Is a single breath the essence of life and music?

Finally, ask yourself these questions: What masks am I wearing that it’s time to throw off? More importantly, when would NOW be the best time to show the world who I really am? Also, ask yourself what passions do you have that may have been neglected and need more time and attention to grow and evolve?

Perhaps the bottomline is this: Depending on when you read this, you may not be able to take off your physical mask just yet, but you can always remove mental masks or blocks that are holding you back from being the best version of yourself.