Untwist Your Thinking – All or Nothing Thinking

If you truly want to changeAs I come back from the last few months of writing my bookA Ladder In The Dark, which I hope all of you readers have bought by now (don’t make me keep begging), here new pieces, I thought I would share what was one of the most valuable thing I learned while trying to cure the damage done to my psyche from the long-term effects of bullying. I found a book published a while ago by Dr. David Burns called “Feeling Good”.

The book is full of several items that help you to recognize the forms of thinking you might be doing due to psyche damage that, after you read, you’ll probably say like me “I do that”!

Luckily, Dr. Burns than discusses the way to untwist that thinking you have developed. Is it easy? By no means. It is work and changes you will develop over time. Dr. Burns discusses 10 twisted cognitive beliefs many people develop with the issue of anxiety and CPTSD, although that term was not coined yet when he shared this.

The first of his twisted thinking we do is “All or Nothing Thinking”. I was incredibly guilty of this. Think of it as always saying everything sucks. Nothing is going right! Truly, does everything suck? Has nothing gone right for you all day? That is the issue of all or nothing thinking. As we continue to say these all or nothing items, guess what? Our minds begin to believe what our mouths say.

So, eventually, you forget to be grateful for the smaller and more positive items that we all have, such as just waking up and breathing. Yes, that sounds like a simple positive, but it is one thing that did go right today, huh?

As Dr. Burns says about it, “You look at things as only black and white categories.” Kids are particularly good at practicing black and white thinking. So how do you untwist this thinking?

In this thinking, you are being a perfectionist and thinking about how you are not perfect.  No one is perfect and we must understand and accept that. It is fine, so don’t sweat perfection. It’s overrated anyway. You might also be dieting and blow it one night and then say to yourself, “I can’t diet.” You discredit the whole week that you did good.

My favorite way to start to fight this compulsive way of thinking is to use a gratitude journal. Spend each day writing about how “thankful” you are, even for small stuff. Three items a day every night. Then, in the morning read them. Try not to write the same thing twice. Sometimes mine are deep and sometimes simple. For example, a simple one would be:

1.      Thank you for letting me sleep well today

2.      Thank you for letting my breath come easily today

3.      Thank you for the phone call from my family

It could be that simple. Just start finding that life is not black and white. In fact each day usually has both good and bad. The more you gratitude journal each day, the sooner this thinking will change. Again, it is not easy. You have to want to change. And if, like me, you made it habitual, then it will take some time. I think it so important to watch that children don’t do this. It is something they tend to want to do and we need to help them see that there is good in every day. Life doesn’t always suck.

The next twisted thinking we will investigate will be Overgeneralization, where you see negativity as a never-ending issue. More next week. What do you think?

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe. He is currently working toward his Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
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