It is important to become aware of our internal negative self-talk
(Automatic Negative Thoughts), stress inducing beliefs and stressful thinking. To
help us record these thoughts it is useful to keep a thought diary or log (see thought log in Anxiety and Stress book by Enright). By recording stressful events in the diary/log and how we reacted to the events we
can begin to identify and challenge our faulty thinking.
Often negative thoughts, that fuel stress, can
be just below our conscious awareness; in our society we have never been taught to be aware of the importance of these thoughts
and to challenge them for their accuracy. We automatically accept that these
thoughts are accurate and therefore never challenge them. But they can and do
play a pivotal role in our feelings. When we think we are stupid, worthless,
an idiot, or a failure, we never challenge these statements for their accuracy and so in essence we are our own judge, jury
and executioner with no right of appeal, or extenuating circumstances.
Cognitive restructuring gives us a technique
to start to look at what we are thinking and to assess its accuracy. For example,
people can, for a variety of reasons believe they are a failure because of one mistake and can go years through life tormenting
themselves not challenging themselves to see if they really do deserve such a label.
Ive known people in their twenties who are firmly convinced that they are a failure, but when challenged by asking
why they think they are a failure, what factors cause them to feel a failure or what they have done in their lives to attach
the label of failure to themselves, they find it difficult to identify the reasons and when they do identify reasons they
tend to maximise their few mistakes and minimise their many achievements.
Often this failure label is given for very few
reasons, for making a mild mistake that most, if not all, human beings make; and even if we have been unsuccessful in a certain
aspect of our life, it does not mean we cannot change and become more successful in the future. We just give ourselves this label for life and it can impede us achieving what we want to achieve. For example, the multi million pound author J.K. Rowling was on state benefits and
without a job before she wrote the Harry Potter series of books. Other authors
have had their manuscripts rejected by many publishers before a publisher decided to publish their book. In essence we can put ourselves in an emotional straight jacket that can hamper us from achieving our goals.
It is important that we do not blame ourselves
for this style of thinking. If we buy a car it comes with a users manual; human
beings are not given this luxury however and therefore have to learn through bitter and hard experience. Human beings were never designed psychologically to live in a modern, complex world with its array of psychosocial
stressors. We have not been given the psychological tools we need.
Fortunately, this sad state of affairs does not
mean that we cannot learn the skills to help ourselves and due to the pioneering work of Dr Aaron Beck and Dr Albert Ellis
anyone can learn the tools of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; the techniques are easy to learn and apply. But we have to be realistic, a lifetime of a negative thinking style cannot be changed over night, but
with time and patience it can be changed.