Balancing Your Life | Healthy Thinking
Healthy Thinking: Pathway to Better Physical & Mental Health
Thoughts and Feelings
Although we don't yet completely understand the connections between thinking and the body, we do know that positive or healthy thinking can: help improve mood, self-esteem, and sense of well-being; decrease depression, anxiety, and hostility; lessen pain and other bodily symptoms; speed recovery from surgery; enhance immune function; and extend longevity. We also know that to a great extent, our emotions are determined by how we think about events. This "self-talk", whether positive or negative, is so powerful that it determines not just our emotions, but the condition of our physical and mental health as well.
Positive Thinking: Nature or Nurture?
The good news is that to a large extent our "self-talk" patterns are learned, and can be unlearned; they are not genetically predetermined, and therefore are not completely out of our control. Changing the way we think is one of the most powerful things we can do to improve our health.
Negativity and Rose Colored Glasses
None of us perceives the world in a completely accurate way. Data is filtered and distorted. We tell ourselves irrational and inaccurate stories, and then behave as if our stories were true. Both negative and positive thinkers distort reality, albeit in different directions, but it seems that the positive distortions of healthy thinkers are most often beneficial. Optimism leads to hopefulness, not helplessness. Negativism greatly limits the potential for creative action.
Assessing Your Distortions
You may find the following checklist useful in helping you look objectively at the direction of your thinking. You do have editorial privilege on your stories. When you find that you're operating from a distorted pessimistic story or thought, use the checklist to find out why, and then revise your story to reflect a more positive outlook.
- Have I correctly identified what's really bothering me? It may be difficult to pin down the real source. Who have you been with lately? Is there some specific event or person that might have triggered the negative thoughts?
- Am I thinking in all or nothing terms? Beware of the globals like totally, completely, always, never...they're almost "always" wrong. Avoid black and white thinking.
- Am I assuming every situation is the same? You can choose to respond differently in every situation. Don't get locked in to a future state that's based on the past.
- Am I assuming the worst? Stop catastrophic thinking and "awfulizing". Small events become disasters, and crises become unmanageable. Maintain perspective.
- Am I making an unfair or unrealistic comparison? So what if you are not Michael Jordan on the basketball court? Rather than compare your present performance to some unobtainable ideal, try comparing it to your recent past performance; competing against yourself will provide measurable gains.
- Do I have the evidence to support my conclusion? You may find yourself leaping to conclusions, or assuming you can read other people's minds (even we can't do that). Stick to what you know.
- Are my worries worth worrying about? Make sure you have a good reason to worry. If you think you do, try writing the problem, and then writing solutions. Paper and pencil have a way of helping clear the fog.
- Am I blaming myself for something beyond my control? Quit blaming, and start accepting responsibility, but only for those things that you can really control. Things like the weather, the stock market, and your professor's choice of tie don't qualify.
- Am I expecting perfection? If so, you will have to learn to love disappointment; give it a rest. Why hold yourself or others to impossible standards? Try rewriting the story about your mistake as one about an opportunity to learn and grow.
- What difference will this make next week, in a year, or in ten years? Our mistakes do not become historical markers. Most people tend to remember the good things and let the other stuff go. They'll forget your stuff too. Try not to take or make things more serious than they really are.
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