Thinking into Hope (Jan 11, 2022)

#hope #selftalk #distortedthinking #reframing #removingbarriers

The long, cold, and early-dark days of winter can be challenging in terms of staying motivated and focused. Our warm-blooded bodies may yearn to hibernate. Our ego-minds may start whispering negative, unhelpful thoughts that drain our already flagging willpower.

Learning to talk to our distorted, negative, unsupportive, unhelpful thoughts with compassion and data is one way to practice giving ourselves encouragement and hope. Our self-talk has more power than any external reality to keep us slowing, or get us going.

One common negative thinking pattern is ‘catastrophizing.’ This pattern uses absolute words (always; never etc.) and deftly creates worst case scenarios using bits and pieces of current facts.

For example, when a particularly cold day has my body and mind feeling sluggish and I haven’t gotten through much of my aspired task list, the catastrophizing mind may say:

‘It will never get warm again, and I will never get through my tasks, and school, work, and everything is going to fall apart.’

Negative thoughts trigger negative feelings (a dull heartache of hopelessness), in turn triggering negative behaviors (unhealthy food decisions tanks my blood sugar level). Now, my body is feeling undernourished, and a new negative thought comes up (‘I am not even capable of taking care of myself; I’m pathetic!’), starting a new cycle of negative feeling and behavior, triggering more negative thoughts, and that downward spiral is set in place.

Reframing negative thoughts helps us remember that we have agency, and feel hopeful.

Effective reframing is not about exhorting oneself to engage in an uncritical, easy peasy exercise of ‘just think positive!’ or ‘visualize, and it will happen!’ It is the opposite, and requires actual cognitive and emotional work.

Effective reframing involves practicing self-compassion, drawing on prior data, and using our critical thinking abilities to create a reasonable, balanced mental storyline that enables us to get things done.

Emotional: Compassion ensures we use a kind and encouraging voice during our self-talk, not a harsh, punishing, or shaming voice.

Cognitive: Data ensures we are not fooling ourselves with baseless, false, or hollow positivity.

Reframing example: ‘I know January can have some cold days, but other days will be warmer, my body and mind will feel more energetic, and I will be more efficient with my task list. I know this because there have been past Januaries when the days have been warmer after a cold spell, my body has felt more energetic, and my mind has been capable of getting tasks completed. My world has not fallen apart in previous winters. And today, or tomorrow, here’s one task I can begin or continue.‘

Action Step:
Pause. Tune into your thoughts. Notice if you are catastrophizing. If so, deliberately reframe your self-talk with utmost compassion, using data drawn from prior experience. Repeat.

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