This is the second in a series of articles which teach you how to eliminate negative thinking.
Bad thinking habits, sometimes known as cognitive distortions, trigger worry, stress, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, depression, guilt, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and a host of other problems.
Treating these problems have attracted lots of books and a variety of methods for overcoming them, including the Linden method and other techniques borrowed from NLP and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These, and many other approaches, including Dale Carnegie’s 1948 classic ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ provide lots of workable ideas through which you can defeat anxiety. My approach, however, focuses on the core insight that worries, being fantasies, are best ignored. And that you need to be spending less time in Headmind.
As related in my previous articles there are four mistakes that people make around worries and obsessions:
- Getting sucked in by anxious thoughts
- Being frightened by them
- Not knowing what to do about them
- Living too much in the head
The four steps in the method I am explaining in these articles address all four problems.
To recapitulate, these are:
- Change Position
- Change Attitude
- Change Focus
- Practice Mindfulness
Before using the method, however, there is an important preliminary which you need to work through first. Which is to distinguish between Worries and Concerns.
Briefly, worries are fantasies while concerns are problems you can influence.
A worry typically has one or more of these features:
1. Predictions of disaster:
Examples: I will lose my job/have a breakdown/get ill again
Example: I won’t be able to cope
Example: I always mess things up
Example: I am a complete failure
Example: I can’t make any mistakes
Example: I must get it right
Example: It’s all my fault
6. Focusing on the negative:
Example: It happened last week, the month before that, twice last year and again this morning at 10 o’clock
Notice that worries aren’t about anything that has actually happened. Instead they are a kind of nightmare in which it is assumed that anything that can go wrong will go wrong and what’s more will always go wrong (Murphy’s Law may be a joke but quite a lot of people with anxiety disorders treat it as revealed truth).
There is no point in arguing with this kind of thinking as so many cognitive-behaviour therapists believe. Doing that is the equivalent of trying to argue with the psychotic on the street corner who wants you to come and hide with him because the world is about to end. The only thing to do about worries is treat them with the contempt they deserve.
But one reason why even daft worries get taken seriously is that they get mixed up with concerns. And because concerns are real then worries can seem real too.
For example. I might have a concern about this article: namely, that it won’t be readable. Were that the case then there are a number of things I can do about that: read examples of good writing and imitate them, get a friend to check it, use a thesaurus, rewrite it, etc. But the associated worry ‘I will never learn to write‘ gets off on the genuine concern that I am finding this particular article hard work. And so I fall into the trap of taking it seriously.
In this series I am teaching you a four-step method through which you eliminate worries such as these. However, to make it work you first have to address any concerns. Doing that may eliminate the worry all by itself. For example, rewriting this article and getting some good feedback makes the earlier worry sound ridiculous.
Here are a few more tips to help you distinguish between the two:
- If it is a worry it will frighten you; if it is a concern it will focus you
- Concerns foster decision-making; worries foster paralysis
- Worries leave you powerless; concerns alert you to what to do next
- Concerns focus on potential solutions; worries on disasters
- Worries are all about the past and future; concerns are about the here and now
- Concerns have an emotion behind them; worries are empty
- Worries tell you that you can’t cope; concerns tell you that you can