Have you ever wondered if “thinking on the bright side” really matters? Well, it only matters if you want to lead a healthy, fit and happy life. Otherwise, it’s an empty, but very nice, slogan. You see, positive thinkers, smilers, cope more effectively with stress. My experience tells me these healthy thinkers prevent stress from developing in the first place. They free themselves from conjuring catastrophic fantasies that lead to mental and physical stress.
Recent research also points to the powerful impact healthy thinking can have on immunity. Not quite the latest fizz pill loaded with vitamins and supplements, but optimism leads to a stronger immune response than does pessimism. Optimism has also been associated with healthier cardiovascular health, decreased levels of depression, lower stress, increased productivity, healthier relationships and even longevity.
The “polyester” thinking style, rather than the “linen” thinking style, i.e., resilience rather than wrinkling and crinkling in the face of tough circumstances, depends on rational, realistic thoughts. This, in turn, creates the kind of responses that enable people to “sing in their lifeboat,” in the face of challenging circumstances.
Great, but just how, specifically, do you learn to think this way? The Greek philosopher, Epictetus pointed the way, “People are not disturbed by things but by the views they take of them.” Albert Ellis, Ph.D. later came along and disrupted the entire mental health, psychotherapy and coaching world with his “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy/Coaching” model.
This means that an activating event (A), does not lead to an emotional consequence (C), but rather it is the individual’s beliefs (B) ABOUT the activating event that creates the consequence. Leave out B and you’ve essentially decapitated yourself. So, to think in a healthy way, catch, challenge and change your irrational (unrealistic, inaccurate) thoughts. Others say, “recognize, reject and replace” them.
Common irrational beliefs that lead to depression, anxiety and/or anger, i.e., unhealthy emotions, include the belief that you “must be approved of or loved by almost everyone,” that you “must be thoroughly competent at almost everything,” that “some people are ‘bad’ and must be punished severely,” that you/others/life should be a certain way and it’s terrible if you/they/life aren’t,” that “external forces control you,” and that “it’s easier to avoid than to face life’s difficulties.”
Some feelings commonly experienced by people are rooted in irrational thinking. For example, depression is grounded cognitively in labeling yourself a loser, focusing on the past, on loss and on emptiness. Anger is anchored cognitively in what you and others MUST do and aren’t, and thinking how terribly awful and catastrophically horrible it is – something you erroneously believe you can’t stand. Anxiety thrives in a future oriented mindset, with predictions of horror instead of hassles, of severe outcomes instead of simply manageable unfortunate circumstances.
Some have come to refer to these types of erroneous beliefs as “ANTs” or “automatic negative thoughts.” Need to get moving but find that ANTs are in your way? These creep into your thinking, actually affecting your ability to do many things, including being more physically active, eating healthy, sleeping well, and being productive at work.
Want some guaranteed anti-ANT spray? It doesn’t come in a spray-bottle, it comes in your disputing, challenging and questioning your own thinking. Successfully done, this natural ANT killer beats pharmaceuticals and other chemicals.
David Burns developed a brief lexicon of the types of mental filters and distortions worthy of using to catch, challenge and change your erroneous thoughts to promote your health. See if you hear yourself thinking like any, some or all of these. If so, it’s time to immediately begin recognizing, rejecting and replacing these cognitive distortions with healthier and more rational, accurate thinking.
- All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
- Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
- Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities “don’t count.”
- Jumping to conclusions: (a) Mind reading — you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no evidence for this. (b) Fortune-telling — you arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.
- Magnification or minimization: You blow things way up out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately.
- Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I must really be one.” Or “I don’t feel like doing this, so I’ll put it off.”
- “Should” statements: You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts.” “Musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos” are similar offenders.
- Labeling: You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself “I’m a jerk,” or “a fool” or “a loser.”
- Personalization and blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem.
So here’s a template for you to work with in creating healthier thinking and in turn healthier living – both physically and mentally:
1. Activating event you recently experienced about which you created upset or felt disturbed, (e.g., “I was criticized.”)
2. Irrational Belief or irrational evaluation you had about this activating event, (e.g., “I MUST not be criticized.”)
3. Emotional and behavioral Consequences of your irrational belief, (e.g., “Hurt and Compulsive eating.”)
4. Disputing or questioning your irrational belief, (e.g., “Why MUST I not be criticized?”)
5. Effective new thinking or answer that resulted from disputing your irrational belief,(e.g., “Although I PREFER not to be criticized, nothing etched in stone states that I MUST not be.”)
6. New Feeling or behavior that resulted from disputing your irrational belief, (e.g.,”Great displeasure and controlled eating.”)
It’s that straightforward. It truly isn’t more complicated than that. The link is what you think. Entirely. Always. Sure, proper nutrition, exercise, healthy relationships, fulfilling work, good genes, pride in a sense of accomplishment and seeing meaning in your life all help support rational thinking and mental and physical health. These behaviors all are anchored in healthy, rational thinking, the kind that is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind. Hmmm, isn’t that what “THINK” rationally means?