Dan Lippmann LCSW. Practical, Sustainable Happiness

Try New Habits of Mind for Peace of Mind

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Most of us were not taught habits of mind that lead to ease, confidence and happiness. It’s the rare child whose parents succeeded at creating a positive outlook on life!

Instead, in an effort to cope with negative experiences, most of us developed habits of mind that lead to upset and unnecessary suffering.

While we all have negative experiences that cause emotional upset, far too many of us get stuck in these negative emotions that grow and fester far longer than they should.

Fortunately, it’s possible to learn new habits of mind that allow you to switch off negative moods and quickly regain a sense of calm and peace.

My client, Jennifer, used my Mood Switch method to replace her automatic, negative thoughts with more helpful, realistic ones. The Mood Switch step she found most helpful was identifying her “Thought Traps.”

“Thought Traps” are irrational, automatic thoughts we all have that cause our emotional pain.

Research has shown that most bad feelings come from illogical thoughts about what has happened to us. The feelings come from the way we think about the events, rather than the events themselves.

If you were to track your negative thoughts for a day, you’d likely discover that you engage in a particular style of negative thinking that triggers most of your upset.

Most people’s negative thoughts tend to fall into four categories. See if you can recognize your particular brand of negative thinking below.

Controlling Thought Traps: Thoughts that focus on gaining control of yourself, others and situations. (Example: If I warn him about driving too fast, then he won’t get in an accident.)

Assuming Thoughts Traps: Thoughts that lead you to assume, guess or imagine various possibilities and outcomes that are not based on fact or logic. (Example: My health problems bring everyone down.)

Clouding Thought Traps: Thoughts that cloud reality and lead to a distorted view of yourself, others, situations and events. (Example: I’m terrible at making decisions.)

Oversimplifying Thought Traps: Thoughts that are an attempt to reduce complex, multi-layered ideas and situations into simple concepts that appear, at least on the surface, to be easier to grasp and deal with. (Example: If I’d been a better parent, then he wouldn’t have started using drugs.)

Jennifer was not the most organized person, so she really surprised me when she told me what she had done. She had copied and laminated my Thought Traps Chart, and she was carrying it in her purse. I knew this meant she was really ready to take control of her moods!
Jennifer and I had already determined that her negative thoughts commonly fell into the “Assuming Thought Traps” category.

She had decided she’d had enough of letting her assumptions run rampant, and propel her into anxiety. She explained that she was developing a new habit. “Whenever I start to feel anxious, that’s my signal to think about what’s going on. I pull out my laminated chart and look at it. Then I think about what thoughts I’m having. Since I tend to have the Assuming Thought Traps, I ask myself if I’m having thoughts that are twisted by those four Traps. Usually that’s true. Sometimes I don’t even have to talk back to my thoughts. I just look at the Chart and I can see that my thoughts are just assumptions, and that some are even silly.”

For instance, the other day Jenifer’s new boss walked by without saying hello to her. Sure enough, she started to feel nervous. That was her signal to look at her Thought Traps Chart. She wasn’t quite sure what her negative thoughts were, but once she looked at the chart, they became clearer to her.

Here is what she wrote down:

I don’t think he likes me

He’s probably going to lay people off.

I‘ll be one of them.

Even if I don’t get laid off, I’ll never feel comfortable here again.

After reading her thoughts over, Jennifer saw they were all based on assumptions, and that there was really no evidence to support them. This realization was enough to calm her down.

So the next time you find yourself getting anxious, stop and ask yourself if you are making assumptions about things that may not be true. If you do this often enough, you may find that like Jennifer, you are beginning to establish a new habit of mind.

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