Every day our minds have about 60,000 thoughts. Many of these thoughts are repeated over and over. In fact, experts say that 90% of those 60,000 daily thoughts are the same ones we had the day before. We can be aware of these thoughts, but we usually tend not to give them much attention.
These thoughts that repeat are called self-talk. Because our minds repeat these statements about ourselves, the statements quickly become things we believe. In a stressful situation, how many times have you thought “Why do these disasters always happen to me?” This example of self-talk shows a mistaken belief that you are always going to have bad things happen to you. To break this cycle we must first learn to pay attention to our thoughts.
In this section we will take a look at the following topics related to destructive thinking:
1. How Stress Works
2. Stress & Self-talk
3. Negative Self-talk
How Stress Works
Psychologist Albert Ellis summarized the model of emotional distress or stress in his famous ABC Model. It is as simple as A+B=C:
A. Activating event or stressor or trigger situation
B. Belief, our thoughts and feelings about A, the stressor
C. Consequence or the physical, emotional and behavioral responses that are caused by our belief
Activating Event (Stressor) + Belief Learned = Consequence or Result (Stress)
Changing your self-talk to a less rigid, less pessimistic, and more positive and accepting style will help to overcome the negative beliefs about a stressor. It will also help you deal with the challenges you encounter in life.
Stress and Self-Talk
Self-talk is the talk inside your head. It is nonverbal, so no one else hears it but you. It is your thoughts that are repeated over and over, all day long. Your self-talk can be used to build yourself up or to tear yourself down. When you use self-talk in a good way to build yourself up, it is known as positive self-talk. When you use self-talk in a bad way, you tear yourself down and it is known as negative self-talk.
The messages we store in our minds are constantly replayed. All too often this self-talk tends to attack and judge. This critical inner voice often sets standards of perfection, then criticizes harshly when we fall short of perfection. Since no one is perfect, this type of harsh inner critic can stay pretty busy! Not only does this inner voice criticize—it remembers. The inner critic is always ready to remind us of our so-called “failures.”
It is your negative self-talk or inner critic that causes most of your problems with managing stress and controlling your anger. When negative self-talk exists, it negatively affects your belief system. Let’s go back to Albert Ellis’ ABC Model for stress.
A + B = C
A = Activating event or stressor or trigger situation
B = Belief or thoughts and feelings about the stressor
C = Consequence or results caused by our belief
Your belief system may be all wrong and, as a result, it sends you in the wrong direction. For example:
A — Activating Event or Stressor: your boss asks you to work this weekend.
B — Your belief about working this weekend is that it is unfair to ask you. You believe you should
not have to work weekends.
C — The consequence or result is that you decide not to work this weekend, even though all of
your co-workers have been asked to work this weekend as well.
It is your false belief that asking you to work on a weekend is unfair and that you do not have to work weekends.
Maybe you’ve already caught yourself using negative self-talk that leads to bad things. If you don’t change these thoughts they can become part of your daily self-talk. When you’re faced with a stressor, these negative thoughts can bring on more stress. Here are some examples of some thoughts that lead to negative self-talk:
- I can make everyone like me.
- I must have everyone’s approval or I have failed.
- If I’m not perfect, I’m no good at all.
- If only I tried hard enough, I could control all the people and events in my life.
- I have no control over my own happiness.
- It’s better to avoid problems than to face them.
- My future is determined by my past.
- I can’t do any of this without help.
- Asking for any help is a sign of weakness.
You may be surprised that destructive thinking is the hidden cause of stress. You may also be surprised to learn that you can limit your stress by changing your destructive thinking. That’s right; destructive thinking is learned, so it can be changed. Stay tuned for the next post on using constructive thinking to change the way your mind thinks and responds to stress.