The “Polluted Atmosphere” of Your Thinking

Thinking comes as naturally as breathing. However, just as we have polluted air, so too we can have polluted thinking. We need to deliberately choose not to have polluted thinking. Negative thinking derails our living a full and joyful life and is slightly different from defense mechanisms that are useful when not used in excess.

It is a measure of maturity to stop thinking that everything that goes on in your life revolves around you. When you see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which you were not primarily responsible you are personalizing your environment, putting undue stress and responsibility onto yourself.

A close cousin, either-or all-or-nothing thinking demonstrates a narrow outlook on life. Having compartmentalized perceptions and experiences into narrow categories, if your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure thereby heaping.

When a habit of negative thoughts takes hold it creates a vulnerability which draws (at best like gravity or a magnet, and at the worst like a black hole) other types of negative thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking makes it easier to overgeneralize with seeing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Rigid categorization makes thinking vulnerable to picking a single negative detail and dwell on it, a type of mental filter so that you do not factor aspects of reality for a clearer perspective.

An extreme form of over-generalization involves labeling or mislabeling: Instead of describing an error, the logic function is derailed with attaching a negative label to yourself, “I’m a loser.” When someone irritates you, “He’s a jerk.”Emotionally loaded labeling deflects from objective reasoned reflection.

Positive experiences are rejected out of habit as inferior aspects of reality, that they “don’t count.” Disqualifying the positive protects negative thinking against everyday positive experiences that might contradict or minimize the negative. Emotional reasoning reinforces negative thinking drawing the person to the sloppy conclusion of “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Inappropriate minimizing, a form of denial, shrinks things until they appear tiny, whether it is your own desirable qualities or the other person’s imperfections like looking through a binocular the wrong way. Catastrophizing exaggerates the importance of an occurrence – a personal goof-up or someone else’s achievement – magnifying a situation all out of proportion.

In desperation for a solution to the path of life we are to take, we turn to the mindless absolutes of “shoulds,” “oughts,” “musts,” often inherited from family, clan, society to motivate us. We submerge our authentic desires, hopes and dreams. Guilt becomes our companion when we cannot attain what we need not to be grasping at.

Jumping to conclusions land us into hot water more times than not. Negative interpretations derived from no definite facts to support the suppositions are a recipe for misunderstandings, poor decisions and bad judgments. Not checking with others (mind reading) about your perception of their negative reaction to you inhibits a healthy growing friendship.

Strong anticipation that things are going to go badly puts us in danger of being convinced our predictions are an already established fact assuming the role of fortune telling. This is the most dangerous faux pas of all since it sabotages free will with a spirit of fatality.

Definitions adapted from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, William Morrow Publishing company.