Developing ‘So what’ thinking


Have you ever imagined the outcome of a situation before it happened? Think about that question for a moment… You will know if you have, if I remind you of a classic scenario – John has an interview next week, he has been preparing for a few weeks and is becoming anxious about it; without full awareness, he has begun creating full-coloured, vibrant moving images in his head of himself walking into the interview room with sweaty palms, stuttering his way through the questions, and next, opening an envelope that has just fallen through his letterbox, that begins: ‘We are sorry to inform you that on this occasion you have been unsuccessful…’  He hasn’t even been to the interview yet! Does any of that sound familiar?! Many of us create distress within ourselves by imagining a future of disastrous, disturbing, fear-filled images and ideas…all of this comes from imagination and this is a destructive use of imagination. A longer-term habit that is beneficial to develop is one where you use your imagination positively, by using visualisation to programme your sub-conscious to see yourself, in the above case, performing excellently and succeeding before you even reach the interview room!

Many of us stop ourselves from trying new things, meeting new people, going on an adventure, changing a job or a comfy routine through the way that we think about it and visualise it, as above. We disturb ourselves into thinking how awful, how difficult it will be and so to avoid this pain…we avoid trying it altogether! We are fortune-telling and not in a positive way! You will know if you are putting the brakes on any action is you find yourself using the phrase, ‘But…what if I …?’ You have imagined failing or feeling uncomfortable before you even attempt anything.

Here are some classic, everyday examples of being a fortune telling:

But…what if I enrol on a course and I find it difficult?

But…what if I go out with him/her on a date and I don’t get on with them

But…what if I go to that new restaurant and hate the food?

But…what if I change my job and hate the new one?

But…what if I go to the dance class and can’t follow the steps?

But…what if I change my hairstyle and don’t like it?

This thinking creates a state of mind where you feel FEAR, ANXIETY, NERVOUSNESS….and it STOPS ANY ACTION that could be beneficial to you.

It is important to get into the habit of taking just a few more calculated risks. These risks may improve your physical health, your mental health, your social skills and social life, your relationships, your career satisfaction and your income.

To start developing a risk-taking consciousness, work on getting into the habit of thinking differently.

Here are some examples of ‘SO WHAT’ THINKING to counter the fortune-telling statements above:

So what if I discover the course is difficult, I can ask for help – it’ll be a good challenge for me.

So what if I got out with him/her and we don’t get on, I’ll give it a try anyway, it might be fun!

So what if I try that new restaurant and don’t like the food, next time I’ll try something different!

So what if I hate the new job at first, I need to give myself time to settle in, it could be great!

So what if I go to the dance class and can’t follow all the moves, I enjoyed the company anyway!

So what if I change my hairstyle and don’t like it, it’ll grow back or I might get used to it and really like it!

If you practise changing how you think about the opportunity of new things it will have a positive effect on your state of mind; you will feel freed up to give it a try, and you’ll take a a more rational and light-hearted view where you are more likely to bounce back from initially uncomfortable situations; this ENABLES ACTION,  practise it!

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Changing how you think will change how you feel for the better

Quote


Epictetus

Epictetus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 ‘People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.’  Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135)

The way in which we see and interpret our world has a massive impact on how we feel. Emotions do not arise from thin air; the great philosopher Epictetus knew this hundreds of years ago, he held the view that, whilst we cannot always control external events we can learn, through an understanding that trying to control the uncontrollable leads to suffering, and that we need to learn self-discipline to control our reactions to events in a calm, rational way.  His work influenced the Cognitive therapy approach where Albert Ellis, an eminent cognitive behavioural therapist, developed his theories based on this idea that negative emotions arise not from events in our lives, but rather from people’s irrational interpretations of the event; crucially that we can learn to challenge our distorted thinking.

For example, if you get up in the morning and think, “I can’t face work; I hate my job and those people just annoy me!”, then the chances are that you are going to dread travelling to work, feel miserable, not enjoy your work and project this feeling out to others in the form of being abrupt or bad tempered and not being easy to work with. It may well be that you dislike your job and want to  improve your work situation and in the medium/long-term looking for another job may help but in the short term it will not help your state of mind, including your levels of fulfilment and happiness, to remain stuck in this way of thinking.

Self-awareness is the key to seeing things differently which will impact positively on how you feel and on how you behave. So, in the above example, if you do get up feeling a little negative about your work situation, the most important thing to do is to be aware that you are! Many of us live our lives not being self-aware; we get into negative patterns of behaviour that result in us feeling miserable but not knowing why!

 

The next step is to be realistic. If it is unlikely that you are able to change your situation immediately, make a conscious effort to disrupt this thinking by making yourself think about some of the positive aspects of your job. There may be some tasks you do really enjoy, some people you do get along with, you might enjoy the breaks; the importance here is to change how you view things so that you can start to feel a little more positive and enjoy your situation more. Who likes feeling miserable?

Try this exercise:

1. Take a piece of brightly coloured paper or a new page in note book or journal and write at the top of the page,

e.g. 10 reasons why I love my job

e.g. 10 reasons why I love my home

e.g. 10 reasons why I love my partner etc.

2. Think carefully and be disciplined – squeeze those ten thoughts out of your head!    

3. Every night before you go to sleep take 10 minutes to focus on each of the ten statements and repeat them in your head or out loud, imagine why each of them is true, then do the same in the morning when you wake up

4. Disrupt your thinking again if you find that your mood is lapsing during the day, take your list out and do the 10 minute exercise as a reminder

 

This exercise is part of the longer-term process of re-programming yourself to think differently in order to change how you feel and experience your life. Learning to be disciplined in your thinking is crucial to feeling better!