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 post, we will take a look at these topics so you can teach your students about how destructive thinking works:

  1. How Stress Works
  2. Stress & Self-talk
  3. Negative Self-talk
  4. Types of Negative Thinking


How Stress Works

First you need to teach your students 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:

  1. Activating event or stressor or trigger situation
  2. Belief, our thoughts and feelings about A, the stressor
  3. Consequence or the physical, emotional and behavioral responses that are caused by our belief

Activating Event (Stressor) + Belief Learned = Consequence or Result (Stress)

Stress and Self-Talk

Next you have to teach your students about self-talk. Self-talk is the talk inside your head. It is non-verbal, 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. So when you use self-talk in a bad way, you tear yourself down and it is known as negative self-talk.

Negative Self-Talk

Ask your students to think of a time when self-talk has lead to something bad for them. Teach them that if they don’t change these thoughts, they’ll bring on more negativity and 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 anything without help.
  •         Asking for any help is a sign of weakness.

Ask your students if any of these examples of negative self-talk have happened before they experienced stress.

destructive thinking

Types of Negative Thinking

Now it’s time to teach your students the common types of negative thinking that can lead to bad things. Knowing more about this type of thinking will make it much easier for your students to recognize it and then change. The destructive or harmful beliefs that lead to most negative self-talk fall into the nine groups described here:

Digital Thinking:  You see things as black or white. A situation is either a “one” or a “zero” with no in-between value—either good or bad, black or white, hot or cold. This destructive belief leads to self talk such as, “If I’m not perfect, then I’m a complete failure.”

Hot Stove Thinking:  You make up your mind about something based on a single event. Such a destructive belief can be valuable the first time you touch a hot stove—you quickly learn never to touch one again. But most events in life are not “hot stoves,” and it becomes destructive or harmful to assume that what has happened in the past will always happen again.

“Chicken Little” Thinking:  You make the importance of an event larger than it really is, seeing disaster  where there is none. Chicken Little is a folk tale character who, when hit with a drop of rain, jumps to the conclusion or decision that the whole sky is about to fall.

Center-of-the-Universe Thinking:  You feel everyone else’s behavior is a reaction to you, and you always compare yourself to others.

Control Myopia:  You are not able to tell the difference between things you can and cannot control. Among the things you can control, you cannot tell the difference between those you should leave alone and those you should try to change.

Finger-Pointing:  You feel a bad event is always someone’s fault—not your own. You look only at punishing the people who did wrong and lose sight of solving the problem.

Hall Monitor Mindset:  You feel there is a code of behavior that must be followed by you and others. You feel bad when the rules aren’t followed and you see the injustice of it all when you should be thinking of problem-solving.

Emote-Controlled Thinking:  You think your feelings are known to everyone. You believe that if you feel a certain way, then the facts of the situation must be in line with that feeling.

Thanks for tuning into our series on teaching stress management to your students. If you want to learn more about developing or teaching soft skills, check out our Success Profiler 4 page brochure here.