By Andy Markham on Mon, Sep 28, 2020
Do you notice when you are falling into negative thought patterns? For most of us, it is difficult to spot cognitive distortions that drive negative thinking. That is, unless those distortions are represented back to us in a way that helps us better study and learn from them.
Having negative thoughts is not uncommon. In fact, the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are the exact same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
Negative thoughts often arise from five common thinking traps:
- Catastrophizing: Blowing things out of proportion and expecting the worst out of any situation
- Black and white thinking: Seeing people and events in all-or-nothing terms without recognizing gray areas
- Over-generalizing: Drawing sweeping conclusions based on a single incident
- “Should” statements: Returning to the past and thinking about what “could” or “should” have been done in a situation
- Jumping to conclusions: Making unhelpful assumptions without having all the facts or information
These patterns can often hijack our brains — thoughts that are neither true nor useful creep up and derail our thinking, and wreak havoc on our mental health. So, we need tools and know-how to tame them.
We need to learn about these thinking traps and identify strategies we can use to avoid them. When we do, we become empowered to look at things differently — with less negative bias and more clarity.
One incredibly valuable strategy for taming our negative thoughts is to practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based practice widely used in psychology. Enter Total Brain’s Thought Tamer self-care exercise.
Total Brain’s Thought Tamer
Thought Tamer is easily accessible for self-care whenever you want to work through the standard steps of CBT. Thought Tamer takes users through three critical CBT steps:
- Naming Thoughts: Pausing to identify the thought trap you’re dealing with
- Reappraising Thoughts: Considering if there is a more accurate and helpful way to think about a situation
- Reframing Thoughts: Intentionally assigning new and improved thoughts to a situation
Here’s a simple example:
Imagine during a team meeting at work you offer a suggestion that your boss does not take. After that happens, you may get lured into an “over-generalizing” thought trap and begin to think that you “never” have any good ideas, or that your boss “always” chooses your colleagues’ suggestions over yours.
By applying CBT techniques and examining the scenario more closely, you may realize that your boss frequently asks for your input and often compliments your ideas. As a result, you can reframe your negative thoughts about the idea your boss passed on and feel confident about continuing to share suggestions in the future.
The aim of CBT is to help you reach a place where thoughts are not only less negative, but more honest and helpful, too.
Today, there are a range of therapy opportunities across the CBT continuum. At the clinical end of the spectrum, CBT may be conducted face to face with a psychologist leading a patient through the therapy process. CBT is also frequently done via telehealth. Structured online CBT programs are also becoming more available. These online programs offer therapy and guidance over several weeks or months. There are also tools on the CBT continuum, like Thought Tamer from Total Brain, that offer a more self-guided experience.
Thought Tamer is a self-care tool that prompts users to self-manage their thinking using CBT concepts. It is a simple way for anyone to leverage the practice of CBT to improve their thinking. Thought Tamer is unique in that it aligns with the other Total Brain tools, and pairs with insights from each user’s personal assessment to provide a more comprehensive thought taming + brain training experience self-care experience.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t take time to consciously pause and dissect our own thinking patterns. However, when we stop and examine what is really going on with our thoughts, we can begin to identify where we are faltering.
Thought Tamer promotes a self-awareness regarding the mental traps we sometimes fall into. The first thing users are asked to do is to choose a negative thought and name it. The tool presents categories (catastrophizing, black and white thinking, over-generalizing, should statements, and jumping to conclusions) along with examples of each to make it easier to identify the issue at hand.
Once a thought trap is selected, the tool dives deeper into different themes that a negative thought might affect, such as health, work, a relationship, and so on.
Now, if you are new to the CBT process (and even if you aren’t) this first step — the identification of the problem — can be extremely eye opening. The thinking traps themselves, such as catastrophizing or jumping to conclusions, are relatively easy-to-understand concepts.
However, many of us don’t notice that we are struggling with these negative thinking patterns until we are forced to step back and name the thoughts. This is one of the reasons Thought Tamer is such a valuable tool, it makes users pause and identify their thinking pitfalls.
After naming negative thoughts, Thought Tamer prompts users to think about each identified negative thought in a new way, eventually leading them to reframe those thoughts. Once users complete the reframing process for a negative thought, they are presented with a summary to show the difference between the initial negative thought, and the improved reframed thought. The process can be repeated over and over for different problems.
Thought Tamer is a useful CBT tool on its own. However, when Thought Tamer is used in combination with other aspects of Total Brain, it is even more valuable.
For example, insights from the Total Brain assessment that provide an overview of an individual’s brain capacity strengths and weaknesses can make it easier to recognize and respond to negative thinking patterns. People who measure high for negativity bias are manifesting threat, for instance. And, when people are catastrophizing, they are magnifying threat to an extreme level. There is a connection between the two. Understanding these connections and having insights about your own personal brain capacities helps increase the effectiveness of Thought Tamer.