Let generalise ...
We want to unconsciously follow our brain’s messages because thoughts come automatically, this is because as we have grown and experienced life at the same time we have been programming our brain to quickly identify what benefits or hurts us, based on our past experience.
Sometimes we all consciously go over our daily thoughts and realise a lot of what we have been thinking in the day is pretty unhelpful and at times downright mischievous.
This is particularly true in the unhelpful thinking style often called 'overgeneralisation'. This means you tend to conclude that what happened to you once will occur over and over again. The result is you are convinced what has hurt you in the past will occur again in the future.
I like to put an example in because its an easier way to explain what the terms mean. Today it's one of my own.
I do not like the dentist (I suspect no-one really likes to go to the dentist) but I really struggle. I have spoken to HH about this on many occasions and he says 'what is it you are so scared off?' I often can't put it into words other than I know I had a bad experience.. went to the dentist - it hurt - I was scared - I felt powerless - I was also young which (in my head) made it even worse. So fast forward several years (more than I care to think about) and on Monday I am at the dentist - AGAIN !! Sitting in the chair, with a lovely dentist who is trying to discuss the options avalaible. Not much is going in because my mind is racing and I am imposing my old perceptions of the dentist and my experience on todays visit. I am overgeneralising and imagining what happened when I was 15 will happen every time I visit the dentist. In reality I need to try and stay in the present and deal with today's issue today, without the unhelpful images and thoughts of my past. I know I do not want to think and feel this way but my past experience clouds my hope of a healthy future relationship with the dentist.
So how is it best to deal with Overgeneralisation ?? well a good place to start is a technique called cognitive restructuring...
Simply cognitive restructuring is about learning to spot, reverse, and remove the thought distortion. Next replace the maladaptive thought with the factual and beneficial thought – grounded in evidence.
As with yesterdays blog there are tools and techniques we can use to help us tackle overgeneralisation.
Step 1 - Calm myself down
If we are not calm we can't think things through properly. Its really important to take control of your emotions to help you think more clearly
Step 2 - What situation and thought triggered this situation (this is called analysing the situation)
In my case it's the dentist - I always go expecting the worse because that is what happened previously .. so I 'over generalise' it will happen again. The thought triggered the response not the situation.
Step 3 - How is the mood ?
My thoughts lead to my moods - not the situation. Therefore if I can change the way I am thinking I am going to change my mood.
In my case the mood was (to be honest) not good - I reverted back to being very scared and that overwhelmed me.
There is a big difference between moods and thoughts. Moods usually are only one word - scared, frightened, happy, excited (ok the last two do not apply to my visit to the dentist) whereas thoughts are normally a sentence
'I thought I would be hurt'
Step 4 - Evidence for and against my thought
We talked about evidence yesterday and I will talk about it again today. Evidence is facts, thoughts may be facts or opinions. We are far better acting on facts than opinions. Opinions may be wrong ! Facts are normally not.
So the evidence for my visit - I need some treatment - there are a range of options for me. Some will cost more than others. Some treatment's will have a longer life span than others. It will need to be done even if I try to put it off by avoiding going back.
I have an opinion its unfair, I have looked after my teeth however the fact is - work needs to be done. I have an opinion it will REALLY hurt.
The facts are I have been to the dentist since I was young, I have had work done, it did not hurt as much as I expected.
Step 5 Develop a more balanced thought
We know it is not likely we will go from 'I dread the dentist' to 'bring it on I love being here!!" That is unrealistic and impossible to achieve. It's about balance.
Ok I am not looking forward to it but the work needs to be done. Let's decide what to do and get it done. HH will be with me and he will take me home afterwards.
Step 6 - develop some positive affirmations
A positive affirmation is useful where you'd like to see a positive change take place in your life. For me, well I would like to go to the dentist and tolerate what the outcome will be.
Thoughts can create negative feelings and perceptions even without an actual basis and overgeneralisation is one of the ways this can happen. Thoughts feel as though they are real. They masquerade the truth even when every part of it points to zero evidence. And so, you accept them as valid.