• nikkialister

You are (not) what you think

In my last post, I discussed some sanity savers for the last quarter of the year.

I want to take some time to talk more about how our thinking patterns can influence how we feel and our behaviour, as well keeping things in perspective

(particularly when the pressure is on).

Watch your thinking

Thought patterns are our unconscious, automatic ways of thinking. I’m sure you’ve heard people referring to themselves or others as an optimist or a pessimist; someone who sees a glass as half full, or half empty? If you generally have negative, self-defeating thoughts floating around your head, your thought patterns can be described as pessimistic. Whether you are more optimistic or pessimistic is in part due to your personality type but can also be attributed in part to your circumstances. Unfortunately, if left unchecked negative or pessimistic thought patterns can often fuel stress and overreaction.

Take some time to pay attention to your thought patterns. If they seem negative, pessimistic and self-defeating it’s important to do something to change them. This is important because thinking often drives behaviour and if you are finding yourself losing your temper, shouting or acting out in other ways your patterns of thinking could be to blame.

Types of negative thought patterns

It is important to identify what type of negative thinking you struggle with. Some people struggle with some or all of these:

1. Personalising occurs when something bad happens and you automatically blame yourself.

2. Catastrophising happens when we automatically assume the worst.

3. Polarising refers to thoughts that conclude something is either black or white, without

allowing for a grey area.

Did you see some of the ways you think in the above descriptions? At times I struggle with at least 2 of them.

What now?

Self-awareness is an important step in changing the way we think. Now you need to commit to making changes so that your thought patterns are more positive. Just like any bad habit, it takes time and effort to make the change but persevere, the results are worth it.

1. Surround yourself with positive and steer clear of negative. Work on small things that are

easy to change and build up to the more difficult ones. For example turn off “Talk Radio” and listen to a playlist of your favourite music or an encouraging or informative Podcast. Be on alert for that friend or co-worker who brings you down and limit your interaction with them when they are contributing to your negativity, at least until you are stronger and more


2. Throughout the day check your thinking. If you’re slipping into negativity; STOP, take a deep breath and find the positive.

3. Choose an area that is the most distressing for you and start working on that straight

away. Common areas include work, your marriage or other relationships such as with

extended family, the economy or finances. It is important to remember that choosing to

think more positively about these aspects of your life doesn’t mean you are minimising them

or being naive; you are simply limiting their ability to affect your mental health, relationships

and behaviour.

Keep things in perspective

As mentioned in my previous post, it is important to watch for overreactions. Try rating the actual cause of your stress, on a scale of 1 – 10 and compare it with your reaction, also rated on a scale of 1 – 10. Often our reaction is disproportionate to the seriousness of the situation.

As a mom of 2 teenage girls, I have to admit that I am guilty of overreacting, particularly when the pressure is on. I have learned to “talk myself down” when I feel like I am ready to BLOW! Again self-awareness is important. I have learned to identify those times I am most vulnerable and am on alert to catch myself before I overreact. When I am caught off-guard, I use the above technique. It really works and I use it with the girls too. Ask yourself (or someone else) will the sun still rise tomorrow? Or will this situation cause the earth to tip off its axis? If the answer is no, then take a deep breath and start working on a solution to the problem.

Again, I am not saying that these things are not important, frustrating or even really costly. What I am saying is that for the most part, they do not constitute the end of the world. And if I’m honest with myself, my reactions sometimes seem to be in line with this kind of disaster. From the dance costume we collected the day before an important concert that was a COMPLETE disaster to the courier on his cellphone that drove into the back of my stationary car, life is going to throw some nasty surprises your way. The key to maintaining your sanity and preserving relationships with those around you is to keep things in perspective.

Thanks for reading!




On a more serious note ...

I am a counsellor based on the East Rand of Johannesburg. Life can be hard sometimes but I

encourage you to contact me should you feel that you are not coping. I offer individual, couples and family counselling as well as parent coaching. There is no shame in reaching out for help; in fact to me there is no stronger person than one who is willing to ask for help.

Contact me for more info

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