Life Coaching with Tereasa Jones - Navigate the World of Relationships

Life Coaching with Tereasa Jones - Navigate the World of Relationships

Tereasa Jones

Cognitive Distortions

How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Focus

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In a fast-paced world with countless distractions and demands on our focus, mindfulness and meditation have gained popularity. The most basic principles of mindfulness are about living consciously and paying close attention to the present moment. Because mindfulness requires a special level of attention, it may seem challenging for a person with ADHD to practice this form of meditation. However, research has shown that mindfulness, when adapted for ADHD, can improve focus and concentration.

#1: Single-Tasking

With the demands of modern living, multitasking has become the norm for many people. Unfortunately, multitasking often does more harm than good, resulting in memory problems, excess stress, and increased distractibility. Practicing mindfulness demands single-tasking and asks practitioners to focus on one task at a time. Slowing down and eliminating multitasking can increase your focus and your productivity.

#2: Stress Reduction

Stress often escalates when people get overwhelmed by present demands and future fears. Mindfulness asks that your attention remain in the present moment. Instead of worrying about the future, mindfulness brings your attention back to the present and allows you to focus on what’s in front of you. Mindfulness will help you redirect your thoughts away from future worries and anxieties so you can focus on the present. In addition, the improved focus you’ll get from single-tasking will help prevent you from getting overwhelmed and stressed by everything coming at you all at once.

#3: Improve Concentration

Other research has shown that mindfulness can help rewire your brain and create new neurological pathways. It has also been shown to increase grey matter in the brain, and that extra density can improve one’s overall psychological well-being. By rewiring your brain and creating new pathways through mindfulness and meditation, you’re helping yourself find new ways to cope with stress and handle tasks. This all means that you’ll be better equipped to deal with distractions, resulting in improved concentration.

At first, mindfulness may seem challenging. In fact, many new practitioners struggle with feeling that mindfulness has made them more distracted. This feeling is normal because mindfulness will initially draw attention to your propensity for distraction. Noticing your distractions is the first step in the process. With time, you’ll learn to recognize them and let them go so you can focus on the task at hand.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Watch for my group on planning that I will be rolling out sometime this summer.

NEED HELP? Set up a complimentary strategy session so we can talk about it HERE.

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Are You Ready To Take Control of Your Schedule? It’s Easier Than You Think!

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Few things upset our lives more than a failure to plan. The Executive Functioning area of the brain is the part responsible for planning, so when there are challenges in this area, planning just doesn’t happen. A misfiring Executive Functioning area can hit people differently and affect the way they interact with the world. For example; people with ADHD have a different relationship with time than those without ADHD. I’ve heard my clients say there are only two times: there is “now”, and there is “never”. This means that if someone with ADHD doesn’t do something immediately, it will never get done.

Even though there can be lot of chaos in life for people who fail to plan, there are a few upsides as well. One is thrill of immediate gratification and being flexible enough to do whatever interests them at the time. Many of my clients in the past have avoided planning altogether for fear that they would “put themselves in a box” and then life would just not be pleasant and spontaneous. The ones who have embraced planning, however, have found the opposite to be true. If you plan out your time in advance, you will be more efficient. If you are more efficient, you will have more time to play.  True, some of the spontaneity is taken out of your life, but there will also be the relief you feel knowing the essentials of your day are taken care of.

In response to clients’ avoidance of planning, for fear they would be trapped or “in a box”, I developed a bit of a mantra. It goes like this: You can trade time, but you can’t steal it. This means that if you have a time set aside for one thing but you want to do another, you have to look at your schedule and decide what you are going to trade for that time. If I have blocked off time for writing, and I’m not feeling creative at the time, I can’t just blow it off. I have to find another block of time to move it to. Sometimes that block of time will end up being my free time. That really stinks, but I have to make a decision to either take my free time now and write later, or write now so that I can take my free time later. It really is pretty simple. I do, however, have to be honest here. I occasionally steal my time. Yep, I’ll admit to it. You will too. You don’t have to be 100% perfect on this. But if you aren’t at least 90%, your life will start to spin out of control.

After accepting that there is merit in planning ahead, the next step is to decide how to do it. I recommend weekly planning at the same time each week, with daily planning in order to fulfill your weekly commitments. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Decide on your planning tools. There are many out there and people have their own preferences. Personally, I use a digital calendar and a paper planner. Most people don’t differentiate between calendars and planners, but there is a definite difference. I’ll say more about that in a future post.
  • Know the difference between a “to do” item and a project. A “to do” item is usually simple and can be accomplished without multiple steps. A project will have many steps (or multiple “to do” items) in order to complete it.
  • Plan at the same time every week, and then adjust your plan every day.
  • Consider weekly planning on either Sunday or Monday morning to get your week started right.
  • Daily planning can be done either the night before or in the morning. I prefer the night before so that I don’t waste any time in the mornings. It also helps me get up and around because I already know what I am doing that day.
  • Block off spaces of time for each of the things you plan to accomplish. Be realistic and remember that people with ADHD tend to see time differently than others. Be sure and add extra time to your estimate to account for this tendency.
  • Find yourself an accountability partner. This could be a friend or a coach. I wouldn’t normally recommend a family member. Too often when a family member fills this role, it is seen as nagging, whereas with a friend or a coach, it is seen as reminding.
  • The last step is your daily review. Review at the end of your day how well your plan went. Note what went right and what went wrong. Make adjustments in your style accordingly.

I hope these tips help you. Watch for my group on planning that I will be rolling out sometime this summer. Planning is a skill. Skills take time and practice. If you are 10% better next week than this week, give yourself a huge pat on the back. It’s a process.

NEED HELP? Set up a complimentary strategy session so we can talk about it HERE.

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Streamline Your Life Using the Principle of Multiplicity

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One of my clients wrote a document that she calls the “Jones Principles”.  These are attitudes that she has learned throughout our coaching over the past several years.  One of the Jones Principles is the principle of multiplicity.  In other words, if you are going to put the work in, make it so that you will benefit from the it more than once. At the end of this article you will find a handy Jones Principles Checklist that you can download!

This principle really speaks to simplifying and streamlining your life. It can be applied to many facets and I will be talking about more of these in future blogs, but today I just want to introduce you to the concept.  One example would be when you are preparing a dish that may be time consuming, why not make two at once and put one in the freezer for later? This same client also mentions that when she shops for her son’s winter clothing, she purchases several pairs of identical gloves so that when he loses a glove, he has a replacement right away. It saves him from having to throw the other out and helps her son salvage gloves during the winter. Furthermore, it’s convenient for her because she doesn’t have to keep making trips to the mall to replenish them during the winter season.

Probably the most helpful streamlining thing I do however is making salad for the whole week.  I put the salad in 5-7-quart sized mason jars, and voila! Lunch is done for the week!  The ingredients for my salad include romaine lettuce, spinach, carrots, red yellow or orange peppers, apples, strawberries walnuts and feta.  Bear in mind that the apples and avocados do turn a little bit brown, but it doesn’t affect the flavor at all.  If you want, you could toss them in with a little lemon juice before adding them to the jar to help them retain their color (but I think it changes the flavor).

Another thing I do with food is I make Quinoa cups for breakfast.  I make them in 1 cup ramekins with lids and freeze them.  When I make these, I make a lot!  My oldest daughter loves them so I prepare around three or four dozen at a time.  Doing so in advance ensures that healthy breakfasts to start the day are available right at our fingertips!

Remember to download the Jones Principles Checklist below to get started! 

I’d love to hear about some of the things you do to streamline your life.  We learn by sharing with each other, so comment below and let’s start streamlining together. You can grab a copy of my new e-book “Living Life Intentionally with ADHD, Open the Door to Your Potential” here. I hope you find it helpful!

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Personalization and Blame

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Personalization and Blame-01

This is my tenth post in the Cognitive Distortions Series. “Cognitive distortions” is another name for beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from living our best lives. The key reality for this series is that our thoughts have profound effects on our perceptions of reality. In order to improve our lives, we must first become aware of our false or negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

While most of the cognitive distortions we have covered over the past few months have been fairly straightforward, the distortion associated with personalization and blame is a two-sided coin. On one side is the act of blaming ourselves for something that is not within our control. For example, perhaps you have thought something along the lines of, “He wouldn’t have lied to me if I weren’t so hard on him.”

On the other side of the coin, we can also blame other people for the way things are turning out in our own lives. For instance, I’m sure at least a few of you have thought something like, “If he had planned better, we wouldn’t be in this financial mess.”

In the first case, we are taking responsibility for something that has nothing to do with us. In the second, we are failing to take responsibility for something that we failed to do while blaming someone else for the outcome. In both cases we are personalizing. It’s either our fault or someone else’s fault. We are also blaming. We either blame ourselves or someone else for life events.

Let’s take a look at the first scenario. It may be true that I have unrealistically high expectations, but is it true that the only choice he had was to lie? This is the critical question. What other things are possibilities? It might be true that I need to work on my expectations, but that doesn’t give anyone else the right to lie to me.

In the second scenario, we have to ask, “How many adults are involved in this situation?” The answer, of course, is two. What was my part in the outcome? What could I have done to prevent this outcome? While it may be true that he is a poor planner, at some point I had to give away my power over the outcome of my own life.

I can almost hear you saying, “Yeah, but…there were extenuating circumstances.” I’m sure that there were. However, we can only control ourselves, our thoughts, and our behaviors.

What are the results of personalization and blame? Why does it matter so much? The result of engaging in this type of behavior is that we never get the chance to correct our behavior. If we assume responsibility for things that are not within our control, we allow the person with whom the responsibility lies to avoid dealing with their issues. We also cause ourselves undo frustration because we are in a no-win situation. We feel responsible for something that we can’t change. Our self-esteem takes a hit. We feel inadequate and helpless. Likewise, when we blame others for our failure to take responsibility we are not able to learn from our mistakes. After all, it wasn’t our mistake, it was the other person’s mistake, right?

Relationships are affected by blame being thrown back and forth. Accusations are hurled at each other and soon we are so aggravated that we don’t even remember what we are talking about. Neither party wins in this scenario. Words spoken are not easily forgotten.

Imagine a world where each person took responsibility for his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Nice, isn’t it? It really can be that nice! The next time you start to blame yourself or someone else stop and ask yourself:

  • Is this true?
  • Whose fault is this, anyway?
  • Whose responsibility is this?
  • Do I need to do anything to correct the situation?
  • What can I learn from this?

Personalization and blame come pretty naturally to us. They begin when we are small children. If we receive messages from the adults in our lives that this way of thinking is in our best interest (such as lying to get out of trouble, etc.) we continue. If not, we learn to take responsibility for our behavior. Unfortunately, many of us have had the former experience. You can learn these behavioral changes for yourself as an adult with intentional interventions.

This is the last of my posts on the topic of cognitive distortions. I hope these blogs have helped you learn a little bit about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can sometimes be distorted. Good luck on your journey of changing your thoughts. You really can change your thoughts and change your life!

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Labeling

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Labeling-01

This is my ninth post in the Cognitive Distortions Series. “Cognitive distortions” is another name for beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from living our best lives. The key reality for this series is that our thoughts have profound effects on our perceptions of reality. In order to improve our lives, we must first become aware of our false or negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

The cognitive distortion of labeling occurs when we take overgeneralization to the extreme. We take a characteristic or a behavior of a person (maybe even ourselves), label it, and apply it to the entire person. If your boss is short and to the point, you may label him a grouch and everything he does would be forever seen through this lens. No matter what he does, you attribute his behavior to him being a grouch. No allowances are made for the fact that he is just a man of few words, is incredibly busy, or has other things on his mind. Nopehe’s just a grouch today, tomorrow, and forever in your mind!

Similarly, when you meet someone for the first time you could make a joke that falls flat. You immediately start blaming yourself for saying stupid things. In fact, you could even end up calling yourself stupid. You might even rant on and on about how you are so stupid. You always say stupid things. You never get things right. You should just keep your mouth shut! You get the picture.

Ever been there? I have. It’s not pleasant.

The problem with these types of labeling is that they are so global. We take a snapshot out of time, separate a particular behavior, make a snap judgement about it, label it, and then act on it. In the above example of the boss, your relationship will be defined by your assessment that he is a grouch. If your mind were open to other possibilities, you might have a great relationship and perhaps even move ahead in your career. In the case of labeling yourself stupid, your self-esteem will plummet and, if you are indeed a stupid person (like you say you are), you will begin to perform and behave like a stupid person (thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy). In both cases, you will discount any other information that might come up that would dispute your label. Soon, the label you create will feel more like reality and over time you will believe it as if it were a fact.

The problem is that this cognitive distortion is, well, a distorted way of thinking. Your boss might be a perfectly nice man who, under the right circumstances, is quite friendly and talkative. Making a broad assumption of this nature is almost never correct. We do a disservice to our boss as well as fail to allow a different sort of relationship to grow. You most likely are not a stupid person. You might have spoken out of turn or found something humorous that others didn’t appreciate, but that hardly makes you stupid. If these assessments are left unchallenged, you can see the damage they can do in your life. The result could be depression, despair, loss of self-confidence, or worse.

On the other hand, if you looked at these things as behaviors and not a characteristics, they would be changeable. We can’t do much about our characteristics but we can definitely change our behaviors. Instead of feeling hopeless, we can have hope for the future.

So, what can you do?

  • When you first notice that you are engaging labeling, STOP.
  • Remind yourself that this is not a characteristic, but rather a behavior.
  • Describe the behavior.
  • Ask yourself what the outcome would be if you or the other person changed the behavior.
  • Would the label still apply?
  • What would be a more accurate way to describe what you are labeling (the behavior)? Resist the impulse to make it global. Just because a person acted like a jerk in one situation doesn’t mean he or she actually  is a jerk all the time.

We are all guilty of labeling. Most of the time we are not even aware of it! Even if we are aware of it, we don’t recognize the harm it does to our relationships with others or with our beliefs about ourselves. Each time we label, a little red flag should wave in our brains to remind us to re-frame and restate what we just thought or said. In time we will fall out of the habit of globally labeling and our relationships with othersand ourselveswill improve.

If you would like some help with your cognitive distortions, drop me an email. I’d love to help you. Remember: when you change your thoughts, you’ll change your life!

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Should Statements

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This is my eighth post in the Cognitive Distortions Series. “Cognitive distortions” is another name for beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from living our best lives. The key reality for this series is that our thoughts have profound effects on our perceptions of reality. In order to improve our lives, we must first become aware of our false or negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Should and shouldn’t statements are when we tell ourselves that things should be the way we have come to expect or that things shouldn’t be the way they are. We should or shouldn’t ourselves constantly but we rarely consider the damage it may be causing. These should statements about ourselves usually lead to guilt or frustration while should statements about others often lead to anger and frustration. So, why do we do it?

We might try to motivate ourselves to do something by saying, “I should be doing this or that,” or, “I shouldn’t be doing this or that.” If you think about it, this actually gives your power away. You are capable of making choices and decisions regardless of what you should or shouldn’t do. (Also, who decides what you should or shouldn’t do anyway?) The trouble with this is that we often get the opposite outcome. Instead of motivation we get procrastination.

I’m going to tell you a bit of an embarrassing story. I have been should-ing myself for over two weeks about writing this blog post. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “I really should write a blog post. I should have written several blog posts before my holiday in England and then I wouldn’t be in this position.” My wonderful assistant, Austin, has been gracious, but he has a tough job. He has to remind me to submit a post according to the schedule we have made. Even then, I sometimes don’t, like this last week when I was away. In this case, my shoulds not only failed to motivate me to write the post, they caused avoidance so that I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt. I procrastinated!

If you have a bit of a rebellious spirit, should-ing yourself can call up that rebelliousness and then you won’t do it just because of the should-ing. How crazy is that? You are only rebelling against yourself! The moral to this story is that even though we all do it, should-ing ourselves just doesn’t work. It creates a host of problems. You would be better off just deciding to either do the task or not. Either way, it’s your choice. I would have been better off (and Austin would have been appreciative) if I had just said, “I’m not going to write a blog post while I’m away.” See how easy that was? It really is just that simple.

Let’s talk for a minute about shoulds that are directed towards others. Since moving into my house that we built a little over a year ago there have been many shoulds directed towards our builder and his subcontractors. The painters should have done a better job. The floor people should have used a different sealer. The people who bricked our house should have been more careful with the mortar. The carpenters should have been more careful when staining our cabinets. The granite people…well, we really couldn’t find any problems with their work! You get the picture.

Let’s analyze this for a minute. Do you think that all of this should-ing made me feel better? Nope! Not even a little bit. Did it get anything repaired or replaced? Nope again, not a single thing. What it did do is make me bitter. I alloweddid you hear that? I’ll repeat it.I allowed myself to become bitter and have my joy in my new home stolen. Just in case you missed it, I’ll say it again. I allowed my joy to be stolen. I allowed myself to become bitter. My builder didn’t do those things; I did! That’s the problem with should-ing other people. It doesn’t accomplish anything positive whatsoever. It just makes us unhappy with our circumstances!

So, since this is something that we all engage in fairly often, we would be well advised to come up with a strategy to stop this unproductive self- talk.

While you are developing your personal strategy, you might want to take some of these steps and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Try to catch yourself when you say should or shouldn’t.
  • Ask, “Says who?” (as in who is setting the standard of what should or shouldn’t happen)
  • Ask, “Is this true? Is there anything that is more true?”
  • Ask yourself if you feel better or worse by should-ing yourself or others.
  • What would happen if you didn’t? What if you just let things be as they are with no shoulds or shoudn’ts?
  • Reframe. Instead of saying, “I should be writing that blog post for next week,” say “I’m going to take a break this week because I’m on holiday.” Make note of which of these statements makes you feel in control.
  • Have some compassion! We need more compassion in our lives. Allow yourself some compassion for not doing what you should have done. Allow yourself to feel compassion for others when they don’t live up to what they should have done. Most of the time our shoulds are not related to anything life threatening! Put it in perspective.
  • Keep a record of when you do the things above and ask yourself how your outlook on life has changed. It helps to see that what we are doing is working.

If you want some company on your journey, ask a friend or give me a call. I help people change their thoughts and, therefore, their lives every day! I’d love to help you.

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Emotional Reasoning

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Emotional Reasoning is a cognitive process by which we believe that what we are feeling is true even in the absence of evidence that supports our feelings. In some cases, there may actually be evidence that disproves our feelings!

To recap what we have learned so far in this series, cognitive distortions are beliefs and thoughts that present themselves automatically and coerce us to believe they are true. They are invasive, stubborn, and often outside the realm of conscious awareness. Our task, then, is to become aware of them so that they may be challenged and defeated when necessary. Emotional reasoning is a particularly hard distorted thought process to overcome because we are taught to “trust our gut.” If we trust our gut in this instance, we will act on thoughts and beliefs that could become very limiting and cause full blown panic disorder.

The most drastic case of emotional reasoning that I can think of is an incident from my own life that had very serious consequences. Like many other people, I am terrified of heights. My husband and I were visiting Sedona, Arizona with some friends. We thought it would be fun to rent ATVs and explore the area. Call me stupid, but I didn’t realize we would be traveling along mountainous terrain where there were no guard rails for safety.

I was terrified.

In fact, I was so terrified that I convinced myself that the only way to stay safe was to hug the inside of the mountain – as far away from the edge as I could get. As it turns out, that wasn’t such a smart move because my two right wheels became unbalanced as they went slightly up the side of the mountain and it caused the ATV to tip over with me under it. I ended up with a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a collapsed lung (not to mention surgery and a long stay in the hospital). When I look back on that incident, I can clearly see that my emotional reasoning caused the accident. I was so convinced – based on my fear – that I was in danger that I over-compensated and caused myself harm.

Fortunately, most cases of Emotional Reasoning aren’t so drastic that they cause bodily harm. Unfortunately, they can and do cause psychological harm all the time. For instance, say I’m attending a meeting with my peers. They are smart people and bring up some items for discussion that I don’t have a clue about. My thought might be, “Oh, wow! I didn’t even know that. I’m really stupid!” Strong waves of inadequacy might flow over me and, since I don’t want to show my “stupidity,” I would keep quiet and not contribute to the conversation. After the meeting, the feelings of inadequacy stay with me and I become depressed and despondent. My self-confidence is at an all- time low, which shows up in the way I interact with my clients. From there…well, you get the picture. It is a downward spiral that can lead to negative consequences in all areas of my life.

While this is a fictional account of what might happen, it’s not far off of what has happened to me in the past. When emotional reasoning prevails, I am taking my emotions to be the absolute truth. If I feel guilty, I must have done something wrong. If I feel overwhelmed and inadequate, I must be a worthless loser. If I feel frightened, the situation I am in must be dangerous. The list could go on forever.

It is fortunate that we don’t have to stay in this spot. We can climb out, question our thinking, and come up with thoughts that are much more realistic.

Let’s look at my example of what happened on the mountain in Sedona. What if I had stopped for a moment and asked myself some questions? Might I have been able to bring some reason into the situation which could have prevented the whole unfortunate incident? While I can’t say this for sure, I think it might have. Let’s see what the process might have looked like.

  • We start up the mountain and the fear threatens to take over. I think, “Oh no! There aren’t any guardrails. I’m never going to be able to go up this mountain.” At this point I have started the downward spiral.
  • Is it true that I couldn’t go up the mountain because there were no guardrails? Plenty of other people were traveling up the same mountain safely. So, the point above is not true.
  • Is there something else that is more true? No guard rail does not mean that I am going to fall off the mountain. “If I stay in the middle, away from the edge, I should be fine.” That thought sounds more reasonable.
  • What is the evidence that I can’t make it up the mountain because there is no guardrail? I can’t think of any evidence.
  • What is the evidence that I could make it up the mountain even though there is no guardrail? There are a lot of people in front of me and some already coming down who made it safely. As far as I know nobody has fallen off the side. This sounds like pretty good evidence to me.
  • Conclusion: There is nothing stopping me from going up the mountain except my own fears which are caused by my own thoughts.
  • Strategy: Stop. Take some deep breaths. Go through the above questions. Calm myself enough to continue or tell myself that I would rather not proceed even though the evidence is strong for the fact that I am not likely to fall off the mountain.

Even if I had chosen not to proceed I would have won over my thoughts. The important thing is that I recognize them as being distorted and unproductive. (Overcoming my phobia surrounding heights is for another post.)

The point I would like to make here is not that you should push yourself to do things you are afraid of. Rather, it is that you need to understand that your own thoughts are causing the fear. There are no facts to back up the fear. It is irrational. My guess is that I would have continued up the mountain safely, albeit somewhat fearfully. I would have made it down safely and I would have felt pretty good about overcoming the fear in the end. However, it would have been every bit as much of a victory if I had chosen to stay behind. I would have made the decision intentionally with full knowledge of the facts. Phobias are complicated and need more work than offered here, but this is where that work starts.

What about the “trusting your gut” thing? Someday soon, I’ll write another post about that, but for now I would just like to leave you with the thought that trusting your intuition is different than trusting your fear. While neither has a lot of supporting evidence, when we trust our intuition we usually do so with a sense of peace. There is very little fear. Even if our intuition says there is danger, we are making our decisions quite intentionally with thought clarity that surpasses that which is reasonable. When we are engaging in emotional reasoning there is no peace or clarity of thought.

Here are the steps:

  • Identify what your emotional reasoning thought is. Be as accurate as you can.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this true?” and, “What are the facts?”
  • Ask, “Is there anything that could be more true?”
  • What is the evidence for or against your thoughts?
  • Come to a conclusion.
  • What are your choices?
  • Identify your strategy.

Distorted thinking is common. Not a single person is immune to it. We have a choice, though. We can let it disable us or we can take control of it. You better bet that if I’m ever put in a situation like the example above again, I will handle it differently. If you would like to handle your distorted thinking differently and you would like a coach to walk the road with you, please give me a call. I would be honored to be the one you choose to take along with you.

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Magnification

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Magnification-01

 

This is my sixth post in the Cognitive Distortions Series. “Cognitive distortions” is another name for beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from living our best lives. The key reality for this series is that our thoughts have profound effects on our perceptions of reality. In order to improve our lives, we must first become aware of our false or negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Distorted thinking is unavoidable. Although they may seem natural and accurate, many of the thoughts that pop into our minds are distorted. We often think of skewed thoughts as being too negative, but they can actually be unrealistically positive as well. Distorted thinking usually results in a mood shift in the downward direction. Even those unrealistically positive thoughts can send our moods spiraling as we begin to realize our unrealistic expectations!

It sure seems like a positive attitude is nearly impossible to achieve, huh?

The good news is that there is a way out of the messes we create in our minds. We can work on changing the thought patterns that cause us the most difficulty. Magnification is a common distortion and, in my opinion, one that society unknowingly rewards in various ways.

Magnification makes problems bigger than life. Magnification also causes us to have unrealistic expectations of events, products, situations, and people. An example of one of these magnifications is when we build up an event to be so much more than it can possibly be. (Have you ever planned a birthday party or family gathering? They never go as well as you want them to!) When the event fails to deliver on these expectations many people experience a crash that will throw them into a deep depression. The way that society rewards magnification is that drama is rewarded. The everyday flow of life is often thought of as boring. To combat this boredom, many people…shall we say, “embellish.” The way they embellish is by adding elements to their stories (the ones they tell themselves and the ones they tell others) that make things much more exciting. Sometimes we even feel that if we don’t magnify our stories nobody will pay attention.

For the last month or so, people in my area have been dealing with the rise in seismic activity in my area (earthquakes). Emotions are running high as people fear for the safety of their homes, roads, bridges, and themselves. While sitting in a Town Meeting yesterday, I noticed that many people seemed to think that they wouldn’t be heard if they didn’t use strong, loud language seasoned with scare tactics. As I watched the reactions of those at the meeting, I had to admit that those people who added a good deal of drama to their statements got the most attention.

This tendency isn’t just in town meetings about highly charged topics, it is also present in our everyday storytelling. Have you ever listened to an obviously embellished recounting of an event by someone that you know is not generally a dishonest person? I have. I see if all the time. People generally laugh or cry more at their creative flourishes. On the other hand, a person who recounts the events realistically is generally met with a mediocre reception. I wanted to address this because I think it is important to realize how we all contribute to this particular distorted way of thinking. As long as there is positive reinforcement for this, it will be difficult to overcome.

When we talk about magnification, we are typically talking about the tendency to exaggerate the importance of our own errors, fears, and flaws. In essence, we talk and think about things in a catastrophic manner and make them considerably more “awful” than they are. The result of this is lowered self -esteem, lack of confidence, lackluster performance, compromised energy to complete a task, and just plain old depression.

Before you can correct magnification, you have to be able to recognize it. Since it is most likely a habitual way of thinking, detecting it might be difficult. The payoff of the attention that is received from this type of thinking has to be less than the payoff of changing. In other words, people don’t usually change the way they do things unless the pain of not changing is greater. Even if you are not ready to change your thinking pattern of magnification, I would like to challenge you to start noticing it. Notice it in yourself, in others, and even in the media. Just notice it. You don’t have to change it right now, but notice it and ask yourself some questions about why people would want to engage in magnification. As you become more and more aware of it, you might start noticing the difficulties that are caused by it.

When you are ready to work on reducing magnification, here are some tips:

  • Raise your awareness. Label it when you see it.
  • Ask yourself what the payoff is. What are you getting from looking at an issue, event, product, or person in this way?
  • Ask, “Could the rewards for changing the way I look at this be just as great?”
  • Try to restate it without the magnification.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this true?” and, “What parts of this are true and what parts are not true?”
  • Reframe the way you are thinking about the situation or event.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Changing a habit is hard.

If you would like some help with changing your thinking, please drop me an email. The journey is well worth your time! Change your thoughts and you will change your life!

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Jumping to Conclusions

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Jumping to Conclusions-01

This is my fifth post in the Cognitive Distortions Series. “Cognitive distortions” is another name for beliefs that hold us back and prevent us from living our best lives. The key reality for this series is that our thoughts have profound effects on our perceptions of reality. In order to improve our lives, we must first become aware of our false or negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Jumping to conclusions is the only exercise some people get.

Do you know a person eager to find the worst explanation for another’s words or actions? Have you ever been in an argument with someone over something you didn’t even do? I’m sure we’ve all been on both ends of this problem at some point. When something goes wrong or a routine gets disrupted, it is too easy to assume the worst about our peers and circumstances. However, the way we look at each event or person is a deliberate choice over which we have complete control.

Jumping to conclusions is a negative thinking pattern developed by making pessimistic assumptions that are not supported by facts. This dangerous phenomenon can occur in a couple of different ways: mind-reading and fortune telling. When you are mind-reading, you assume that others are negatively evaluating you or have bad intentions for you. When you are fortune-telling, you are predicting a negative future outcome or deciding that situations will turn out for the worst before the situation has even occurred.

It’s natural for us to make assumptions and inferences about whatever is occurring in our environments, and we jump to many conclusions every day as a result. It is only damaging, however, when we actually believe our assumptions and inferences are factual and true without digging deeper to find confirmation.

Here’s an example that may seem familiar to you. A few minutes ago, my husband said something to me to which I replied, “What?” He noted that my tone was a little off and assumed I was upset. He jumped to that conclusion based on what he assumed that my tone meant. The fact was, however, that I was focusing on something else and he had simply interrupted my train of thought. In truth, I was a little irritated. But I was not upset or angry like he assumed.

Looking at this example a little more deeply you can see how we assess the things that are going on in our environments and make judgments about them constantly. We couldn’t stop doing that even if we wanted to. But when we don’t allow for the possibility that we are wrong, we will soon find ourselves in trouble.

Almost immediately after my response, my husband asked me if I was mad. I answered that I was not mad—just preoccupied—and we went on with our evening. He did a few things right in this situation. After making the inference, he asked me for clarification. When he found no evidence to support his inference, his thoughts took a different route and no problem occurred.

Sometimes we don’t get the chance to clarify with the other person. All is not lost! We can do something called reframing.

Let’s say that I get up and go to the fridge to get my orange juice just like I do every morning. My husband has already left the house when I discover that the carton is almost empty. My first reaction is to assume that my husband had drank all of the orange juice and I might infer that he is thoughtless and rude. If I go down this road it is likely that a problem will occur at some point, ending either with me directly questioning my husband (possibly in a raised voice) or me in a grumpy mood to start the day.

I could, however, STOP and ask myself some questions like, “Is it possible that he didn’t even have orange juice this morning?” or, “Is there any evidence that he was thoughtless and rude?” or even, “Is there another possible explanation?” I could reframe the way I thought about it and could say to myself, “Hmmm, I guess one of us forgot to put it on the grocery list. I’ll do that now and pick some up after work.” If I frame my thoughts in this way, no problem occurs. I go on about my day and my husband isn’t even aware of any of my thoughts. As you can see, this method is good for all parties involved.

Reframing is a skill that you can develop. It is really all about the stories that you tell yourself. If I tell myself that my husband is thoughtless and rude, I will have one reaction. If I tell myself that it was an oversight, I will have another. The choice is mine. With enough practice I can retrain myself to stop jumping to negative conclusions without evidence. I will never stop assessing my environment and drawing conclusions, but I can automatically begin to look at the positive possibilities and realize that I can choose to tell myself any story I want. When I have reached that point, a shift in the way I am thinking occurs and my world becomes a little less threatening and hostile.

To recap, here are the steps you should take to stop jumping to negative conclusions:

  • As soon as you realize that you are jumping to conclusions, STOP.
  • Ask yourself some questions like, “What are the possibilities? Is there evidence that supports my negative inference? What story am I telling myself? Is there another story that I could tell myself?”
  • Make a choice to keep your story or change (reframe) it.
  • Ask for clarification if you have the opportunity.
  • Most of all, keep an open mind. Realize that, while it is natural to make assumptions and jump to conclusions, your thoughts are not necessarily factual. Be willing to change your mind and tell yourself a different story.

While it is not an easy to change your way of thinking, it can be done! If you would like help with your negative thought patterns, drop me an email. The journey is not such a long one when we walk it together! Change your thoughts and you’ll change your life!

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Discounting the Positive

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Discounting the Positive-01
It is infinitely easier to criticize than it is to appreciate people or things just as they are. As humans, we tend to find faults and disappointments in even the happiest of occasions. For example, imagine having dinner at a nice restaurant with a loved one. Even if the food is perfect, you could still think that it took too long to cook or that your server wasn’t attentive enough. At work or in your relationships, it is easy to remember your shortcomings rather than dwelling on your positive qualities.

Have you ever wondered why this is?

Discounting the positive is a habitual way of disregarding our successes and strengths while focusing instead on what we consider to be our weaknesses and our failures. In our minds, if something isn’t perfect it is, by default, flawed. Since perfection rarely, if ever, exists in our world, pretty much everything is considered a failure or flawed in some way. Therefore, since perfection as unobtainable, we choose to view ourselves more as a mixture of failures than a collage of successes.

So, what happens when we discount the positive things in our own lives? There’s a laundry list of terrible side effects such as feelings of inferiority, lack of confidence, bouts of depression, loss of energy, and loads of procrastination. Not a pretty picture! If the lens through which we see the world is programmed to see the negative, we shouldn’t be surprised if we only see the negative. If people in our lives try to congratulate us on something, we tend to discount it. If they want to help us celebrate our success we are embarrassed and discount or downplay it. We walk around in the world with a “yes, but…” response to everything. When we “yes, but…” everything we deny ourselves the joy of enjoying our success while also denying the people in our lives the pleasure of gifting us with their praise and good wishes.

Assuming this is true, why do we do it? I have a theory.

We are actually getting something out of it.

But how could we possibly benefit from denying our strengths and downplaying our accomplishments? We lower our expectations of ourselves so that we don’t have to perform. After all, if you were successful at this endeavor then what could be next? Will you be expected to repeat this success (or even worse exceed it)? We become scared of the possibility so we discount it. We refuse credit for it. This is what we call a fear of success. Do we do this consciously? Of course not. We aren’t crazy! When we think about it logically it doesn’t make sense. And yet we do it. Some of us do it all of the time and then we wonder why we have no confidence, why we procrastinate, and why we are down in the dumps.

So, what is the way out of this trap that we set for ourselves?

Remember, I said this is a habitual way of seeing the world. Habits can be changed. They can be discarded and new ones can be developed! That’s the good news! I won’t lie to you though, there is work involved. One thing to remember about the work involved is that you can have positive thoughts about it and, therefore, look forward to it or negative thoughts about it and, therefore, dread it. If you dread it, the work will be hard. If you look forward to it, the work will be a source of pleasure and you will motivate yourself to keep going. The choice is yours.

  • Identify the problem. For instance, you may recognize that you can’t accept a compliment. That’s the problem.
  • Recognize how you do it. Going with the above example, you may discount the compliment by saying, “Thanks, but…” and making an excuse.
  • Ask yourself, “What’s behind this?” Maybe you don’t feel deserving of the compliment or you are embarrassed at the attention you are getting. Perhaps you have a fear of future expectations if you accept the compliment. This awareness is important. If you don’t know why you sabotage yourself, it’s hard to change your response.
  • Identify your triggers. (Someone compliments or congratulates me.)
  • Identify where you would like to be regarding the problem. (I would like to be able to accept compliments with grace.)
  • Visualize the solution. Imagine yourself accepting a compliment with grace. (I will smile and simply say, “Thank you.”)
  • Create your strategy. (The next time I feel the urge to discount someone’s compliment, I will say, “STOP!” in my head and instead say, “Thank you.”) This step is important. Don’t allow yourself room to argue with yourself. See yourself as a person who accepts compliments with grace and a simple “thank you” will be sufficient. Resist allowing yourself to elaborate. Just say, “Thank you.” That’s all! You can add more later, but keep it simple right now. The simpler it is, the more likely you are to remember it on the spot and be able to implement your intention.
  • Celebrate your success! Allow yourself a moment to feel the pleasure of having accepted a compliment without discounting it. Allow yourself to really receive the compliment and realize that this is something important. It is important for you to feel affirmed and it is important for others to feel good that they acknowledged you. This is likely to be uncomfortable at first, but do it anyway. Soon you will be able to feel the warmth that someone’s appreciation brings!

We only talked about receiving a compliment in this example, but there are lots of other ways we discount the positive in our lives. An example from my own life that happened just yesterday is that I was in a bind for time. I had some errands to run and only about 45 minutes to get them all done. People were out Christmas shopping which made it difficult to get around. Delays were inevitable. I became grouchy. Bah! Humbug!

I was rushing into a store to make an exchange when I heard the most beautiful singing. I looked around to find the source. It was a Salvation Army bell ringer. “Don’t make eye contact,” I told myself. “I have no time for this.” I quickly realized my mistake and, in my head, said “STOP.” This woman was singing her heart out for me. But, I had no time (and if I make eye contact, what else will be expected from me?). I’m glad to report that in this case I followed my own advice. I stopped, received her gift, told her what a beautiful voice she had, dropped a few dollars in the bucket, and continued on my way. How did this change my day? It got me out of my Scrooge-like mood and made me realize that all I could control was the way I was thinking. When I did that, my day suddenly got better and I proceeded with a lot more patience and a much better attitude.

What compliments have you been denying yourself? Take a moment to reflect on your strengths and accomplishments. Stop being afraid of the great things you have done! You don’t have to flaunt them to the world, but you should allow yourself to take pride in your best abilities. And, if your good work raises the expectations of others, move forward with the confidence that you can handle anything that life throws your way. When you seek positive things, don’t be surprised when you start to find them!

Change your thoughts and you’ll change your life!

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