Good heavens above. Days like these make me realise how little I have control over and how bloody insignificant I am in this world.
I can’t change the world. I can’t un-inaugurate Trump. Can’t get out those crumbs that get stuck along the seal of the oven door. Sigh…
So now I realise it’s probably worth focusing on the small circle of influence that I actually do have. Which is me – my own thoughts, responses and actions.
Totally honestly, I’ve been blaming everyone else and everything else for whatever disatisfied me for ages. Idiotic bosses not recognising my awesomeness. Irritating husband not knowing, telepathically, my inner wants and needs. Uncaring friends for not inviting me for a coffee just when I’m free and happen to fancy it. It’s all so unfair.
Seriously, reading that back, I can see immediately I’ve been a jerk. But this genuinely was my mindset since…forever. Stuff happening to me that I’m not happy about that I’m not able to influence. No wonder I’ve been hanging on to sanity by a thread.
In the course of my work as a Trainer, I’ve been introduced to CBT within the last year or so and even just knowing the teensiest amount about this has revolutionised my thinking and given me little coping strategies that are helping me be happier.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – CBT – is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behaviour) all interact together. Specifically, our thoughts determine our feelings and, in turn, our behaviour.
So, negative and unrealistic thoughts can cause us distress and result in actual problems in our real world. When suffering psychological distress, the way in which a person interprets a given situation can become skewed. These “thinking errors” such as catastrophising (“He didn’t put the bins out again…he doesn’t love me…we’ll end up getting divorced!) therefore have a negative impact on a person’s actions. CBT aims to help people notice when they make negative interpretations and to identify underlying personal beliefs which contribute to this distorted thinking. The ultimate aim then, is to develop alternative – healthier and more realistic – ways of thinking and behaving which can reduce psychological distress.
An example: When walking down the high street a few weeks back, I saw an old work colleague and was just about to say hi when she sailed right past me and ‘blanked’ me. I felt really crap about it and could only assume that she deliberately wanted to avoid talking to me and that she must, in fact, dislike me. I started to recall certain times from the past when I must have p*ssed her off or rubbed her up the wrong way. Like that time I said I was too busy to help her get a project finished, and that time I was off sick and wasn’t able to help her deliver that presentation….no wonder she couldn’t be bothered with me.
I felt so crap about this that later, when a friend text to ask if I was around to meet for coffee, I made some excuse not too. I spent the rest of the day feeling a bit low and ‘rejected’.
A few days later, I saw on Facebook that this ex-colleague had just suffered a bereavement so I left a comment saying ‘so sorry for your loss’ and wondered if her circumstances may have explained why she ignored me the other day. You guessed it – an hour or two later she responded to say thanks and she also apologised for not stopping to say hello last week…”I was having a really tough day and just couldn’t face talking to anyone.”
We messaged back and forth a little, the outcome being she said she missed me (Yes! This person who ‘hates’ me!) and it would be great to catch up some time.
So, in effect, my crappy, negative thinking at the time (she doesn’t like me….I must p*ss people off…I’m not likeable…) resulted in pretty much a whole day of feeling like poo and blowing a friend out for coffee too!
Get started with CBT
Self-help through CBT is starting to give me back a sense of some control. I can take notice of my thoughts about events, check myself to see if these thoughts are based on any actual evidence or on a thinking error, and therefore regain some influence over my emotions and, ultimately, make me behave in more positive ways. It’s given me an entirely new sense of perspective. It’s pretty easy to grasp the basic concept and quickly be on your way to a little self-counselling. There’s a brilliant CBT overview on the Resilient Mindset website. What CBT teaches us is to think about our thinking. It’s about being aware in an adult-like way, rather than acting on emotion, as we mainly do when we’re kids….and quite often never really stop.
A little self-awareness can go a long way. I hope you enjoy thinking about your thinking. Let me know if CBT works for you.