I had a friend in high school who exclaimed after every test, “I’m sure I failed it!” She would agonize over some perceived mistake – maybe an item she left out, or a misspelling – and mope for days until the results came out. She always got an A+, an A or at worst, an A-.
We can beat ourselves up and judge ourselves harshly when we do not measure up to our expectations. Perfectionists do this regularly. Negative thinking may be implanted early in life and not even be evident to our conscious mind. In cognitive behavioral therapy, “Negative Automatic Thoughts” (NATs) cause emotional problems. By identifying our negative thoughts and arguing with them, we can change our moods and our behavior.
Cognitive therapy was the brain child of a psychoanalyst, Aaron T. Beck. It’s an ancient idea. The Greek philosopher Epictetus was quoted: “Nothing else is the cause of anxiety or loss of tranquility except our own opinion.” We can change that opinion. Here’s an easy way to do it:
Note your negative thoughts. If you get stuck trying to identify them, read Burns’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
- Examine the evidence. Pretend you are in court, presenting your case. What evidence supports the NAT? What is against it? Now be the judge and make a ruling. If you come up with “yes, but” thoughts, repeat the process.
- Write the thoughts and your arguments in a journal or on the Four Thinking Hats to Explore and Remove Cognitive Distortions mind map you can download from: personalpowerroadmap.com/mind-maps.
It takes conscious effort and persistence to overcome our negative self-judgments. But the results make it worth the effort. Imagine being free from the distress these thoughts cause. Imagine reclaiming the hours or days lost to depression or anxiety over your perceived imperfection.
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A cognitive therapy technique can combat this distressing process and reclaim the hours or days lost to depression or anxiety over perceived imperfection.