Challenging Your Beliefs


Challenging Your Beliefs

Our beliefs are the result of the experiences we have as we mature. These experiences as well as the influences of parents, clergy, books we read and movies we see shape our beliefs. Much of the time our beliefs serve us well and allow us to deal with life's challenges in an adaptive way. At times, however, our beliefs can give rise to thinking that affects us in deleterious ways.

The list of irrational beliefs below, exaggerated for effect, are not uncommon. They can lead to thinking or perceptions (See Blog Post-Changing Your Thinking and Feel Better) resulting in negative feeling states like anxiety or depression. Are some of these beliefs your beliefs? Can you propose to yourself an alternative belief that might make your life better?

Irrational beliefs

1. It is a dire necessity for adult humans to be loved or approved by virtually every
significant other person in their community.

2. One absolutely must be competent, adequate and achieving in all important respects or
else one is an inadequate, worthless person.

3. People absolutely must act considerately and fairly and they are damnable villains if
they do not. They are their bad acts.

4. It is awful and terrible when things are not the way one would very much like them to

5. Emotional disturbance is mainly externally caused and people have little or no ability
to increase or decrease their dysfunctional feelings and behaviors.

6. If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, then one should be constantly and
excessively concerned about it and should keep dwelling on the possibility of it

7. One cannot and must not face life's responsibilities and difficulties and it is easier to
avoid them.

8. One must be quite dependent on others and need them and you cannot mainly run one's
own life.

9. One's past history is an all-important determiner of one's present behavior and because
something once strongly affected one's life, it should indefinitely have a similar effect.

10. Other people's disturbances are horrible and one must feel upset about them.

11. There is invariably a right, precise and perfect solution to human problems and it is
awful if this perfect solution is not found.

Three Column Technique

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Three Column Technique

One technique to help you challenge your negative/irrational thinking is the Three Column Technique. Simply fold a piece of paper in thirds. Label the first column "Event", the second column "Thought/Thinking/Perception" and the third column "Feeling/Behavior". The technique highlights the fact that it is not events that affect our mood or behavior but our interpretation or thoughts about the event. See the example below.

1st Column: Event-I had a first date with Gretchen and it seemed to go well. I asked her out this week. She said she was too busy.

2nd Column: Thought/Thinking/Perception-She does not like me.

3rd Column: Feelings/Behavior-Sad. Frustrated. I won't bother to ask her out again.

So it's not the event that triggered the sadness, but this individual's thinking about the event. Note his thinking error-Mind Reading, making an assumption about Gretchen without much evidence.

Change Your Thinking and Feel Better


Changing Your Thinking

The way we think can make us feel sad or happy relaxed or anxious. Unfortunately, we are often unaware of our thought patterns. Traditional theorists felt that much of our thinking was in our subconscious unavailable to us. Current theorists think that most thinking occurs so quickly that most of us are unaware of it. Regardless of theoretical orientation, becoming more aware of your thinking can change how you feel. So how can we that happen? David Burns published a book, Feeling Good, in 1980 that popularized cognitive therapy that focuses on changing thinking to reduce negative feeling states. He presented 10 ways of thinking that leads to negative feeling states. Becoming more aware of one's thinking can reduce those negative feelings. Below are those 10 ways.

List of Cognitive Distortions

1. All or Nothing Thinking: Seeing things in black and white. If your performance falls short of
being perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Examples: I lost the Handover account. I’m a
failure as a salesman. I need to find someone that will do it right…do it perfectly.

2. Overgeneralization: Seeing a single event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Examples: I lost
my parking ticket. I can’t do anything right. They (Travel agents, contractors) can’t do anything

3. Mental Filter: Picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it so much that your vision of
all reality becomes darkened. Examples: My nose is big, I’m unattractive. That tile is set too low,
I need to retile the bathroom.

4. Disqualifying the Positive: Rejecting positive experiences by thinking they “don’t count” for
some reason or another. In this way the negative belief is maintained despite positive everyday
experiences. Examples: It doesn’t matter that I have a college degree. It doesn’t matter I
checked the basement for water earlier today…

5. Jumping to Conclusions: Making negative interpretations even though there are no definite
facts that convincingly support your conclusions. There are two subtypes.

a. Mind Reading: Arbitrarily concluding that someone is reacting negatively to you
without bothering to check it out. Examples: I know he/she does not like me. I know
she doesn’t know how to do it.

b. Fortune Telling: Anticipating that things will turn out badly or feeling convinced that
your prediction is an established fact. Examples: I’m going to fail that test. I know he’s
going to screw it up.

6. Magnification (Catastrophising) or Minimization: Exaggerating the importance of some
events, such as your goof ups or someone else’s achievement, and/or shrinking the importance of
other events, such as your desirable qualities or another’s imperfections. This is also known as a
“binocular trick.” Examples: He has such a great sense of humor. I’m so socially inept. That
budget cut is going to create a disaster. It does not matter he’s done this a hundred times. He may
screw it up this time.

7. Emotional Reasoning: Assuming your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.
Examples: I feel I’m a bad person. I am a bad person. I feel it’s dirty.

8. Should Statements: Trying to motivate yourself with “should” and “shouldn’t. Musts and ought
are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. Example: I should be making more
money. When such statements are directed towards others the emotional consequence is anger,
frustration, and resentment. Example: She should be treating me better. I should be perfect.

9. Labeling and Mislabeling: Using highly colored and emotionally loaded language. This is an
extreme form or overgeneralization. Examples: I’m a loser. He’s an idiot. She’s inept.

10. Personalization: Seeing yourself as the cause of some negative external event that, in fact, you
were not primarily responsible for. Example: It’s my fault my marriage is not working. It was
too hot in the room where I gave the talk. Why didn't I call maintenance.