Most of us can identify times when our minds fall foul of negative, irrational thoughts that take root. When this happens our thinking often leads to us experiencing unwanted, negative feelings or else reacting in a way that is unproductive. You may already be aware when this happens and perhaps you can see that this type of outlook isn’t great for you. But this is not the same thing as knowing what you can do to change your thoughts. This post introduces you to a way of challenging self-limiting thoughts.
Two types of question that can help with perspective
In Myndflex we use a model called the 3C’s to help people understand, challenge and change unwanted thinking habits. The part of the process we’re focusing on in this post is the middle C, the process of challenge. I’m sharing these observations and tips with you because lots of people have found them helpful in unlocking different ways of approaching situations that they find difficult or uncomfortable. Suggesting that it’s helpful to be objective in our outlook is hardly a radical or surprising idea. But what I have found is that this is often easier said than done. In other words, we tend to make more progress in doing this in practice if we have some specific things to try.
There are two different ways you can challenge your thinking or outlook:
you can test how reasonable it is, and
you can assess how helpful it is
I’ll say a bit more about each of these so that you can see how these work in practice.
The reasonableness test
This test involves asking questions to see how accurate, objective and reasonable a view is. It is often useful because it’s very easy for our minds to jump to conclusions, make assumptions and treat them as fact or fill in blanks with our own version of events. Let’s take an example. Say you find yourself thinking “I’m useless at networking” you can use the reasonableness test to see if it actually stacks up or if you’re being hard on yourself. Here are some different ways of looking at the situation together with illustrative questions that might prompt a more objective perspective.
Facts & evidence, testing to see if a thought is rooted in objective reality, for example
What evidence do I have that this is actually the case?
What feedback have I had that this is true?
What experience(s) am I basing this view on?
Logic & deduction, testing how someone has moved from experience to deduction, for example
Based on my actual experience of interacting with people I don’t know well, how would I score myself on a 1 to 10 rating scale? (if it’s above 0, saying you’re useless is an exaggeration!)
Standing back from it now, how reasonable is that as an assessment of my capability?
How have I arrived at that conclusion? What makes me say that?
Perspective, testing to see if your view is subjective and personally biased, for example
If a good friend or close colleague said that about themselves what would I think?
If someone was a fly on the wall when I’m networking would they say that I’m useless at it?
The helpful test
Another thing you can do to challenge your thinking is to take a pragmatic approach. Here instead of probing if your outlook is realistic or not you are prompted to assess what effect a view is having on you. Staying with the “I’m useless at networking” thought here are some challenges and questions.
Impact, testing to see if a view is helpful or unhelpful, for example
What impact does that thought have on me? How does it help me?… hinder me?
How helpful and productive is it for me to believe and focus on that self-perception?
Strategies, testing if a different approach might work better, for example
Can I find a different thought that would be more helpful for me?
What else could I choose to focus on? (aside from my perceived difficulty or lack of skill)
So those are two useful, practical ways you can challenge yourself if you suspect you may be exaggerating the negative aspects of a situation.
Here are a few suggested take-aways from this article
In order to put yourself in a good position to challenge and change unhelpful thinking you first need to notice that your outlook may be unduly negative. So a useful first step if you want to develop in this area is to practice noticing when this happens for you. As your awareness heightens you open up the possibilities for change.
If you want to have a go at using the reasonableness and helpfulness tests outlined above, pick a couple of questions in each area to ask yourself in relevant situations. See what works for you, what resonates, experimenting with different questions until you find something that triggers a more objective, balanced perspective.
NB If you are interested in these ideas but have not yet managed to use them successfully, don’t despair! It can take time and practice. You may also benefit from some more detailed guidance about how to challenge e.g. we go into more depth on this topic in the Myndflex online toolkit for individuals and at the accreditation workshop for coaches.
When you successfully use these challenge tests to give you a better sense of perspective, see if you can complete the process by swapping your original, negative thought for something more balanced and realistic (e.g. substituting “Networking’s not my favourite thing but I’m looking forward to discovering what’s new in the industry” for “I’m useless at networking”)
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