Challenging negative thoughts

Chapter 4 of Owning It by Caroline Foran discusses the Negativity Bias, which Foran defines as “the way in which negative experiences weigh more heavily on the brain than positive ones.”

The exercise provided at the end of the chapter entitled ‘Cognitive Restructuring’, is designed to help you look at your negative thoughts logically and reduce your belief in “unhelpful thoughts”, in other words, to give your thoughts a fair trial. It consists of eight steps and as I list them out below, I’m going include my own situation that this exercise helped me with immensely just yesterday.

Step 1: Identify the situation

I’m going to a show in the city centre by myself. I feel sad (pathetic) going by myself. I’d rather go home and be in my comfort zone. I’m going to have to rush from work, plus I have no idea where or if I can get food beforehand. I probably won’t enjoy it.

Step 2: Analyse your mood

  • Dread
  • Sadnessdownload (6)

Step 3: Identify the automatic thoughts

  • I’ll end up with an empty stomach all night
  • It won’t be enjoyable
  • I’ll stand out like a sore thumb
  • It’ll go on too long
  • It’ll be mad late by the time I get home

Step 4: Find objective supportive evidence

  • It used to take me up to an hour to get into the city when I went to college in the evenings from work
  • I don’t know where I can eat – there are no food places around the venue

Step 5: Find objective contradictory evidence

  • There is a restaurant down the road from my office, according to my co-worker, and I can always have snacks if worse comes to worse
  • I’ve seen people attend shows solo plenty of times
  • Shows usually go on no longer than three hours
  • Traffic is clear at night so I’ll be home quickly
  • There will be a break halfway through the show so I can decide if I want to stay or not – I’m not a prisoner!

Step 6: Identify fair and balanced thoughts

  • If it’s not enjoyable, I’m not obliged to stay
  • Ninety minutes is plenty of time to get food and get into the city
  • I’ll more than likely be home at my usual time when I’m out with friends
  • Who cares if I’m alone?

Step 7: Monitor your present mood

  • Calmer
  • Less tense

Step 8: Create positive affirmations

  • I am confident
  • I am a good time-keeper
  • I make good choices

It turned out that the show actually started later than I had originally thought so I had plenty of time to get food in a traditional fish & chips restaurant nearby and made it in to the city with plenty of time to spare, so much so that I had to pass time. This exercise really helped me, though I was afraid to admit it at the time. I didn’t feel dread anymore, instead my anxiety settled as I looked at the situation from every angle and it no longer seemed scary.

And yes, I had a great time!


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