Do you know about “automatic thinking”?
“Let’s try to think positively!”
“Just stop having negative thoughts!”
These are some things many of us may frequently hear in daily life.
Being able to look at things in a positive light, or being optimistic about life in general – it’s much easier said than done.
Contrary to these words, some of us may remember all the things in our lives that didn’t work out, then think about everything negatively, assuming that it might not work out the next time either.
Feeling like you’ll fail at anything you do, or feeling inexplicably anxious everyday… These feelings are thought to stem from ‘automatic thoughts’. Is there a way to deal with this troubling pattern of thinking negatively?
- What are “Automatic Thoughts”?
- Turning Automatic Thoughts More Positive
- How Can We Fight Negative Automatic Thoughts?
What are “Automatic Thoughts”?
The concept of ‘automatic thinking’ is mainly used in cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to modify negative thoughts and perceptions. It’s a reflexive thought that pops into your head whenever something happens. When this is habitual in a negative direction, it can be quite troublesome.
A strong sense of ‘past and present denial’ – being convinced that you’ve had only bad experiences – and a strong sense of ‘self-denial’ – being convinced that you are a bad person – can lead to depression and a lack of positive outlooks on oneself, believing that there will never be anything happy or enjoyable in the future.
Turning Automatic Thoughts More Positive
Even if a depressive thought pops into your head, recognizing it from a positive perspective makes it possible to minimize the negative impact.
There are two ways in which we think about and perceive things.
・Implicit cognition: Beliefs and ideas that have been gained through daily living
・Explicit cognition: A momentary reaction that pops into consciousness
Some people are able to always look at things through a positive lens. For example, as a general belief in life, they may think, “There is happiness in everyday life. I have many strong points, and my life has value”. As a momentary thought, they may think, “This is a difficult situation, but I can overcome it!”
Experts believe that the cyclic nature of negative thought patterns are the cause of depressive thinking. One unpleasant thought leads to another, and creates a repetition of negative self-evaluation. Being pessimistic about the future can cause you to feel like you’re unable to put a positive spin on anything. Moreover, when this belief of being unable to solve anything on your own continues, it can lead to a continuous desire to just run away.
On the other hand, if you’re able to continue looking at things from a positive pespective, they might gradually be able to counteract painful thoughts such as above. You might also be more likely to find a successful distraction, through the power of thought.
How Can We Fight Negative Automatic Thoughts?
So, what exactly does it take to make our automatic thinking more positive?
Below outlines one such example.
1. Look for experiences that have produced positive consequences. Think about what qualities in yourself they were derived from.
For example, let’s say you had the experience of a successful presentation. There are many possible reasons for the presentation to have succeeded. For example, “because I worked diligently”, “because I was able to focus in a limited amount of time”, “because of my high presentation skills”, and so on. One or two of those factors, and possibly more, would have intertwined to create this success.
2-1. Think about the positive elements that can counteract your negative thoughts.
For example, let’s say you made a huge mistake at an important sports event.
In that moment you might have some negative thoughs. For example, “I’m the type of person who fails in important situations.”
However, as a result of the failure, you might practice a lot more and ultimately excel at the sport. You might also find that many people around you were comforting and encouraging towards you.
2-2. Think about how these positive memories affect you now.
Let’s think about the continuation of 2-1.
If you were ultimately able to “practice a lot more” as a result, you can look at your own persistence. This becomes proof that you are a person who is able to continue working hard, not intimidated by failure. If the people around you “comforted and encouraged” you, you might be the type of person who receives support from many people.
By repeating the above method over and over again, positive thoughts will start to interrupt the negative thought patterns. Subsequently, this allows for more and more of these positive thoughts to come to mind as time goes on. As the link between negative thoughts that accelerate depression is severed, the less likely your automatic thoughts will turn negative.
You might often hear that positive thinking is the key, but if you find this difficult to actualize, give this method a try.
Automatic thoughts are tricky, but they can be very reliable if you have them on your side. Let’s keep our daily thoughts bright, for a brighter daily life!
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If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!
The Relationship Among Irrational Beliefs, Automatic Thoughts and Depressive/Anxious Mood (Fukui, Itaru & Sakano, Yuji. Human Welfare Studies (3), 1-12, 2000.)
Mediating Effects of Automatic Thoughts in Facilitating and Reducing Depression (Yoshida, Toshiyuki & Nakamura, Tomoyasu. the Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology. 55(3), 313-324, 2007-09)