Friday, March 13, 2015

Not Just for Teachers: Negativity

As noted in my last post, some of my coworkers and I are reading the book Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching by Angela Watson. There's also an amazing devotional that goes along with it! They're both written for teachers, but it could apply to every profession! This chapter is about strategically thinking and how to think the thoughts that you WANT to think!

We have now moved into conquering tough habits. For the next 5 weeks, each post will have 2 different habits and ways to break them! 

Habit 1: Thinking negatively about yourself

"Every single one of us has an ongoing internal monologue or conversation playing in our minds. It's called self-talk and typically involves a running commentary on what's happening around us. Most of us identify with this self-talk and assume we're repeating the truth to ourselves. However, this commentary is totally biased and rarely accurate b/c out self talk is colored by our mindset. 

Self talk includes lots of automatic thoughts that we've reinforced over the years by paying attention to them and attaching importance.  The automatic thoughts pop up without us consciously thinking or even noticing them.

Your automatic self-talk is a fundamental part of how you think and feel. In part, that's b/c we grant more credence to our own thoughts than to those of other. We've trained ourselves to think critically about other people's ideas. But if that opinion comes from our own automatic thoughts, most of us tend not to question it. We become our own worst critics proclaiming a never-ending, scathingly bad review of life that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If you repeat that type of self-talk (negative), it quickly becomes ingrained in your thinking patterns. Negative thoughts become a part of you, and you internalize the idea that you are, in fact, a loser who sucks at life. You actually believe your own hype and become convinced that the products of your distorted thinking are true and accurate. Self-doubting thoughts become a part of your belief system. Therefore, as you learn to address negative thought patterns in your mind, the best place to start is with the way you think about yourself.

Words like never, always, horrible, awful, worst, impossible, hate, unbearable, and unbelievable  are usually exaggerations that cause you to view a situation and yourself in a worse light than necessary. 
Choose words that aren't so dramatic and final, such as rarely, usually, challenging, difficult, tough, dislike, and surprising.  An internal monologue that says, "I hate dismissal duty- I can't believe I'm being forced into this terrible waste of time! I can't stand it out here for another second!" is more likely to create feelings of stress than, "I really dislike dismissal duty. It's hard for me to stand out here sometimes when I have so many other things to do." 

If you pay close attention to your word choice, you'll notice how influential it is on how you feel and what you think later on. Rephrasing your thoughts in a way that's more rational will keep your from getting so worked up and prevent your thoughts and emotions from spiraling out of control.
Another reason why using less extreme language is important is b/c it gives you a sense of control and empowers you to change the situation. If you think something is really awful, you'll probably waste a lot of time thinking about how awful it is rather than expending your energy on problem solving. Repeatedly thinking about how bad things are can cause you to become convinced that you can't stand the situation and it will never improve. Feeling that you have no control or hope for improvement leads to depression and other severe, desperate emotions. Choosing less extreme language gives you control: it reminds you that the situation is not unbearable and it won't last forever. 

Another technique is to turn negative statements in to a question and call to action. Instead of stating dysfunctional thoughts as facts (I always do this wrong- I can never get it right), try asking yourself questions that lead to improvement (What can I do to help myself improve in this area? Is there another approach I can try?) 

Practice not undermining yourself in front of others. This is especially important in a professional setting b/c broadcasting your flaws can damage credibility.
Speaking negatively about yourself causes others to see those flaws more clearly and predisposes people to view you in a negative light.

Your confidence can't be derived from your character or what you've done- that's a recipe for frustration, b/c you won't always behave and achieve the way you want." 

Habit 2: Explaining Setbacks in a Negative Way

"Pessimistic thought patters:
1. Over-generalizing: arriving at a conclusion based on too little evidence
2. Permanence: assuming (w/out evidence) that setbacks and problems will exist forever
3. Catastrophizing: magnifying negative aspects and mining positive ones to assume the worst
4. Polarized thinking: perceiving everything as either perfect or a failure with no I'm between
5. False helplessness: assuming (w/out evidence) that you are powerless over a situation

When you find yourself rending toward a pessimistic explanatory style, stop and examine examine more of the evidence. Is this situation really a total failure? Or is there some good in it? Is it possible that the situation may not be the way you perceive it and there is an alternative explanation? Don't rush to judgment if it's going to lead to defeatist, pessimistic thinking. Admit that you don't know for sure if a situation is permanent or hopeless and refrain from making a negative guess or prediction. Be sure to weed out any extreme and replace it with more accurate terms. 

If you find that your pessimistic explanation IS completely accurate, as yourself,  IS it useful or beneficial for me to perceive things this way? 
Does that thought help you teacher your classes with enthusiasm and energy? Does it stir up feelings of compassion toward (that student) so you're motivated to help her do better next quarter? Does it make you feel good about yourself and your work as a teacher? 
If it doesn't, then choose not to dwell on it! Let the thought enter your mind and pass right back out without attaching any importance to it or giving it any further thought. Dismiss it, distract yourself, and replace your thoughts with things that are beneficial. If the subject reoccurs in your mind, choose to reject it by telling yourself, That's not helpful and there's no good that can some from me ruminating on that idea. I choose not to think thoughts that don't contribute to my mental well-being. Moving on." 

In the devotional, Angela mentions this verse:
"I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -John 16:33
She's explaining that there's no need to be pessimistic because God has overcome the world! What a great reminder! This is definitely something I need to remember when I have all those pesky negative thoughts!   

If you'd like a printable version of this to post in your office, car, or home you can find one here.

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