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
- The Self – Is the self worthless or valuable? (Personal)
- The World/Environment – Is the world unfair, fair, or neutral? (Pervasive)
- 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
- Engaging in black-or-white thinking. Thinking in extremes, such as all good or all bad, with nothing in the middle.
- Selecting one idea or fact from an event while ignoring other facts in order to support negative thinking.
- Believing that we know the thoughts in another person’s mind.
- Believing that something bad is going to happen even though there is no evidence to support this prediction.
- Exaggerating the potential or real consequences of an event and becoming fearful of the consequences.
- Making a rule based on a few negative or isolated events and then applying it broadly.
- 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.
- Exaggerating an imperfection into something greater than it is.
- Making a positive event much less important than it really is.
- 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.