I always believed that my thoughts were normal until a psychologist gave me the following list of irrational behaviours to mull over during my parents’ divorce. I was guilty of four of these 'sins' and while I must watch out for these rabbit holes daily, the awareness is much more helpful than my prior ignorance.
#1 Irrational Behaviour: I must/I must not...
This boils down to all those rules and regulations that you set for yourself: I must jog 15 km every morning, I must finish that chapter by this weekend, I must not drink more than two coffees a day. There’s a fine line between being discplined and setting goals and being too hard on yourself. Do your best, but be flexible e.g. leave breathing space or grace for the day when maybe it’s just way too hot to go for that run. You’re lucky to have freedom so don’t keep yourself prisoner.
#2 Irrational Behaviour: Catastrophising
If you’ve suffered from anxiety before, this should be all too familiar. Every time that you make a mountain out of a molehill, you’re catastrophising. Just because you did not get a response on your Whatsapp message does not mean that the other person was in a car accident. Similarly, if you do get bad news, it’s not the end of the world. It might hurt for a while and you’ll probably struggle to come to terms with it, but you’ll eventually learn to deal and life will go on.
#3 Irrational Behaviour: I can’t...
The only thing standing between you and ‘can’t’ is experience. When you were little you could not ride a bicycle, but after a few days with the training wheels on you managed to master your new hobby. In fact, you were able to enjoy being outdoors with the wind rushing through your hair. Just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you won’t be able to learn how to do it. Sure, for someone with a certain aptitude certain skills will come easier than for others, but get ‘can’t’ out of your vocabulary.
#4 Irrational Behaviour: Negative Self-Judgement
If your internal dialogue is constantly telling you how stupid and fat and useless you are, you’re being biased and unfair. You might experience yourself as being stupid, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. Maybe you have done one stupid thing yesterday, but that doesn’t mean you’re a stupid person all the time. Cut yourself some slack and be realistic. No one is perfect.
#5 Irrational Behaviour: Overgeneralization
When we’re upset it’s so easy to fall into this trap: “All men are lazy!” ; “All Australians have bad manners!” ; “All healthy food tastes like wood shavings!” In the heat of the moment we tend to overgeneralize, but in most cases it’s simply not true. You might have had numerous experiences with lazy men, but unless you have met all the men in the world you have no proof that they’re all lazy.
#6 Irrational Behaviour: Black & White Thinking
The two extremes - all or nothing, always or never. Life does not work like this; there’s always an ebb and flow. In your mind, if the holiday was not perfect, then it must have sucked. It’s more likely that parts of the holiday were enjoyable and other parts were less than ideal. You’re using an immense amount of energy if you evaluate life in such drastic ways and don’t allow the middleground to exist at all.
#7 Irrational Behaviour: Deciding Before Experiencing
Picture this: you’re invited to an event, but apart from the friend who you’ll be joining you probably won’t know anyone else there (an assumption on your part). If you decide beforehand that the event will be boring and uncomfortable and therefore you won’t go, then you’ll never know if the evening could have been fun and whether you could have met new, interesting people. That said, you have to know yourself and what works for you and what doesn’t. If you’ve had a full body massage before and did not like it, then you don’t have to force yourself to have another one. You’re entitled to your opinion, but don’t become so rigid in entertaining your preconceived ideas that you miss out on life.
It’s hard facing the music, right? Now that you know these destructive patterns, you can actively try and change them. Good luck my friends - it’s not easy but it’s worth it.