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Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

'Stinkin Thinkin...' and how to deal with all your Should Statements

I should call my mum everyday, I must not ever fail, I’m a bad person if I yell at the kids…

Inner Rules.  We all have them. 

We may not always be able to articulate them, but they guide our behaviour on a daily basis. Hanging around in our subconscious and nudging us towards doing or saying something that is consistent with them.

Like most things in life there are good ones, and bad ones, healthy ones and not so healthy ones.

An inner rule like “Good people don’t gossip” is a healthy (socially acceptable even) inner rule.  But when it gets changed to “I’m a bad person if I gossip” you can see how it quickly becomes harmful. 

I’ve had a quite a few conversations this week with clients and teams, about cognitive distortions. 

A cognitive distortion is when your mind convinces you of something that isn’t really true.  They’re inaccurate thoughts (not facts!) and they’re usually used to reinforce negative thinking or uncomfortable emotions.  

They’re super easy to get stuck in and make habit, because when we’re stressed we adapt our thoughts to ensure our immediate survival from a threat. Nowadays the threat is less likely to be life threatening, it’s more likely to be embarrassment or humiliation or loss or rejection.

Here’s the thing: we become so accustomed with the way in which they shape our thoughts that they become our habitual perception of the world.

What are some examples of Cognitive Distortions?Catastrophising is a cognitive distortion. “I made a mistake a work, it's going to ruin the project, I’ll get fired and never work again…”

Personalisation is a cognitive distortion. “What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong?”

Mind Reading is a cognitive distortion. "I know she doesn't like me because she didn't reply straight away"

Should Statements – inner rules – are cognitive distortions too.

There’s a whole catalogue of ‘em!

What can we DOOOO? With practice, you can change them.

By learning to correctly identify this kind of ‘stinkin thinkin’ you can answer the negative thinking back and refute it.  And by refuting the negative thinking over and over, it’s power will slowly dimmish over time and be automatically replaced by more rational balanced thinking. 

Challenging your 'Should Statements'Back to Should Statements, let me invite you to challenge one of your inner rules.

The key to making this exercise worthwhile is choosing an inner rule that is indeed harmful.  If your inner rule is to finish work at 5pm and go for a walk - KEEP IT!!!!

Instead, choose an inner rule that isn't healthy!
What is your (questionable or harmful) inner rule. Here are some common starters:“I should….”
“I must…..”
“If I do …., it means ….”

How do you feel (and how do you treat yourself) when you break this rule?
Where did the rule come from?
How does this rule help you?
And what are the disadvantages of keeping the rule (how does it harm you)?
Does this rule need to be KEPT, BINNED or CHANGED?
What is the best possible version of this rule?
What did you come up with?  I'd love to know.

So is there something wrong with me?
Key message – cognitive distortions are NORMAL. 

Cognitive distortions DO NOT mean there is anything wrong with our brain. Cognitive Distortions are an error in our thinking, in our perceptions. This is what needs work!


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