1. Using skills from the previous sessions, we looked at how to talk in a healthy way about ourselves and others. But, sometimes we don’t talk in a healthy way internally. This session is about Challenging Negative Self-talk and looking at Common Thinking Errors and having a discussion about how to catch yourself when you are going down that rabbit hole and having you check your facts and re-align your thoughts.
2. Next up is an activity where participants can share a few examples of Common Thinking Errors and the all-important “rest of the story”. Sometimes we can make assumptions from our first impressions and that can lead your thoughts astray. When we learn to give the situation time and learn the facts, we can find a completely different truth.
3. Nobody is perfect and sometimes positive self-talk doesn’t work. Discuss proactive ways to get yourself out of a funk and on the road again.
4. For the final activity to literally wash away those negative thoughts, use pen to write those negative thoughts on a dissolvable substrate and watch them float away.
5. If time or at another session, celebrate the end of this part your Journey (or after your Take Action Project is completed) with a fun movie night.
What is self-talk?
As we go about our daily lives, we constantly think about and interpret the situations we find ourselves in. It is like we have an internal voice that determines how we perceive every situation. We call this inner voice our “self-talk,” and it includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions and beliefs.
Negative self-talk often causes us to feel bad, and can make us feel hurt, angry, frustrated, depressed or anxious. It can also make us behave in a self-defeating way. For instance, thoughts like ”I’m going to fail for sure” might discourage you from working hard when you are preparing for your exams, and you might actually fail as a result.
Positive self-talk is challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking, and replacing them with more reasonable and helpful thoughts. This is a powerful way to feel better either about yourself or a situation.
An example of negative self talk would be if you tell yourself that there’s no reason to study for an upcoming test because you already know that you’re going to fail. You may not even try to study because you believe you won’t pass, regardless. However if you believe that you will do well on the test or that studying will help, then you’re much more likely to do well on the test. Don’t doubt yourself, you’re capable of achieving a lot more than you think.
A challenge with negative self-talk is that what you think or say to yourself might seem true. You might assume that your thoughts are facts, when in reality they are based on your perceptions. If you are feeling down on yourself for some reason, this can lead to your thoughts being especially harsh.
Negative self-talk can also affect your self-esteem. When you feel down, it is likely that you’re hard on yourself, and you might criticize and judge yourself unfairly. The worse you feel, the more negative your self-talk is likely to become. It can be helpful to put a more positive perspective on things. For example, challenge your self-talk by imagining it’s a friend in your situation and reframe it based on what you’d say to them. We’re often nicer to friends than we are to ourselves!
Challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way. You can practice noticing your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way. You might be surprised to realize how distorted some of your previous thoughts were before.
Challenging negative self-talk
Identifying self-talk can sometimes be tricky because it’s so automatic, you might not even be aware of what’s going on in your own mind. However, whenever you find yourself feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as a signal to reflect on your thinking. A good way to test the accuracy of your perceptions is to ask yourself some challenging questions. These questions will help you check out your self-talk and see whether your current interpretation is reasonable. It can also help you discover other ways of thinking about your situation. Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating—and prevent you from getting what you want out of life—can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.
1. Reality testing
- What evidence supports my thinking?
- Are my thoughts based on facts or my interpretation of the situation?
- Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
- How can I find out if my thoughts are true?
2. Alternative explanations
- Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?
- What else could the situation mean?
- If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
- Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- What’s the best thing that could happen?
- What’s most likely to happen?
- Is there anything good about this situation?
- Will this matter in five years?
4. Goal-directed thinking
- Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?
- What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
- Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?
Try it out
Think of a situation in the last week when you have found yourself feeling bad. You might have been feeling upset, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. Try applying some of the above tools.For example:
- ”I tried on my jeans and I looked so disgusting and ugly and fat” turns to ”I tried on my jeans and they were too small”
- ”Sally said ’hi’ to me and I made a total idiot of myself” to ”Sally said ’hi’ to me and I blushed and looked away. It’s perfectly ok to be shy”
- “I totally messed up that exam, I’m a loser and I’ll never get a good job” turns to “I didn’t do as well in that exam as I would have liked but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to get the job that I want”.
Read common thinking errors for more tips on ways to challenge negative thinking.
This fact sheet comes from Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond (2005).
Common Thinking Errors
Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that can cause you to feel bad and sometimes act in self-defeating ways.
If you feel more upset the more you think about a situation, you may want to consider the possibility of thinking in a different way. (For more information check out the Challenging negative self-talk fact sheet)
Challenging your thinking errors
Here are 10 common thinking errors and ways to challenge them.
1. Black-and-white thinking
When you’re thinking in black-and-white, you see everything in terms of being either good or bad with nothing in between. For example: either you’re great, or you’re a loser; If you don’t look like a model, you must be ugly; if you do something wrong, then you are completely bad.
The challenge: Look for shades of gray
It’s important to avoid thinking about things in terms of extremes. Most things aren’t black-and-white, but somewhere in-between. Just because something isn’t completely perfect doesn’t mean that it’s a total disaster.
- Is it really so bad, or am I seeing things in black-and-white?
- How else can I think about the situation?
- Am I taking an extreme view?
2. Unreal ideal
Another common thinking error is to make unfair comparisons between certain individuals and yourself. When you do this, you compare yourself with people who have a specific advantage in some area. Making unfair comparisons can leave you feeling inadequate.
The challenge: Stop making unfair comparisons
- Am I comparing myself with people who have a particular advantage?
- Am I making fair comparisons?
When you filter, first you hone in on the negative aspects of your situation. Then you ignore or dismiss all the positive aspects.
The challenge: Consider the whole picture
- Am I looking at the negatives, while ignoring the positives?
- Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation?
4. Personalizing: The self-blame game
When you personalize, you blame yourself for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s not your fault or responsibility.
The challenge: Find all the causes
- Am I really to blame? Is this all about me?
- What other explanations might there be for this situation?
We often think we know what other people are thinking. We assume that others are focused on our faults and weaknesses—but this is often wrong! Remember: your worst critic is probably you.
The challenge: Don’t assume you know what others are thinking
- What is the evidence? How do I know what other people are thinking?
- Just because I assume something, does that mean I’m right?
When things go wrong, you might have a tendency to exaggerate the consequences and imagine that the results will be disastrous.
The challenge: Put it in perspective
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- What’s the best that can happen?
- What’s most likely to happen?
- Will this matter in five years?
- Is there anything good about the situation?
- Is there any way to fix the situation?
Over-generalizing is a lot like exaggeration. When you over-generalize, you exaggerate the frequency of negative things in your life, like mistakes, disapproval and failures. Typically you might think to yourself: I always make mistakes, or everyone thinks I’m stupid.
The challenge: Be specific
- Am I over-generalizing?
- What are the facts? What are my interpretations?
8. Fact versus feeling
Sometimes you might confuse your thoughts or feelings with reality. You might assume that your perceptions are correct.
The challenge: Stick to the facts
- Am I confusing my feelings with the facts? Just because I’m feeling this way, does that mean my perceptions are correct?
- Am I thinking this way just because I’m feeling bad right now?
When you use label, you might call yourself or other people names. Instead of being specific—for example, saying “That was a silly thing to do” —you make negative generalizations about yourself or other people by saying things like “I’m ugly,” or “she’s an idiot.”
The challenge: Judge the situation, not the person
- What are the facts and what are my interpretations?
- Just because there is something that I’m not happy with, does that mean that it’s totally no good?
10. ‘Can’t Stand-itis’
Some people get intolerant when they have to do things they don’t enjoy. They tell themselves that they “can’t stand” certain things instead of acknowledging that they don’t enjoy them. As a result, they easily become frustrated and angry.
The challenge: Accept that frustration is a normal part of life
- I don’t enjoy it, but I can stand it.
- This is a hassle, and that’s O.K.! Life is full of hassles.
The effect of challenging thinking errors
What is the effect of challenging your thinking errors? It can make you feel better and encourage you to change some of your behavior.
Remember: When you’re feeling down, try to examine your thoughts. If they’re negative or critical, try challenging them. Once you get into the habit of disputing your negative self-talk, you’ll find it easier to handle difficult situations, and as a result, you’ll feel less stressed and more confident and in control.
2. ->Activity: Think of “Thinking Errors”
For this activity, we went around the group (or you could ask for volunteers to suggest various situations) and asked them to think of time where they had made thinking errors for 3 or 4 of the examples above. If possible, they can mention what happened afterwards and provide details on “the rest of the story”.
For an example of labeling: I gave an example where I assumed a girl in a college lab class who talked like an “LA Valley Girl” to a known “frat boy” would be just like some of the snobby girls who were at my high school. Once I got to know her (and him), I discovered they were both really nice people. She and I became lab partners (and friends and running partners) and I discovered she was actually from Northern California and just had a unique way of talking. We still send each other Christmas cards 30 years later.
3. ->Discussion: Nobody’s perfect
What to do when positive self-talk doesn’t work
Hey, we aren’t all perfect. Sometimes our head gets the better of us. Check out some great suggestions for working through a hard spot here. That might mean distracting yourself, reaching out to someone to talk about it or even just dropping everything to do something that makes you happy, like baking, exercising, petting your dog or drawing. Talk about different ways that might help your group.
4. ->Activity: Write it Away!
This activity allows participants to melt away their negative thoughts. Various products are available that allow one to write something in ink on a material and watch their sentiments lift off and dissolve in warm water using a regular ball point pen. This is a very empowering project and I think each person can easily think of at least 10 negative things that they would like to change about their life (in other words, you may use more supplies than you expect).
Pens, Warm water (extra hot water in Thermos is helpful), Dissolving substrate (like Sulky Water Soluble Stabilizer or Dissolving Paper), Large Bowl (shallow)
- Precut paper into (at least) 1×4″ strips. Give several strips and a pen to each participant. Encourage them come up with negative thoughts about themselves, life, projects, etc. and write them down on the strip of dissolving substrate. They can write one less negative thought (or something silly) to do as the group initially.
- Prepare the shallow bowl with warmer water. This works best when the water is on the hotter side.
- Pass the bowl from one person to another. For the first strips, they may want to pick their least private thoughts and do it as a group. Later, they can turn around if they want to do this privately. Gauge the tone based on your own group.
- If the strips start dissolving more slowly, pour in hot water or refresh the water in the bowl if it gets sludgy.
Sulky dissolvable material (in a roll): https://www.amazon.com/Sulky-486-12-12-Inch-Soluble-Stabilizer/dp/B001705SVS/ref=pd_lpo_vtph_229_bs_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=YW77T0NKM6Y27QND1P3Z&dpID=411Tn0MEinL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=detail (12 inches x 9 yard, $10.50)
Dissolving paper: http://www.sciencebobstore.com/dissolving-paper/ (15 sheets, $8)
Disappearing Journal: https://www.amazon.com/Disappearing-Notebook-Dissolving-Message-Journal/dp/B00H2S80PA (32 pages, $15)
Dissolving paper sheets: https://www.amazon.com/SmartSolve-8-5-11-Dissolving-Paper/dp/B01BGGC3KQ (25 pages, $12)
These fact sheet come from 1) Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond (2005) and 2) The “Ten common thinking errors” are derived from the work of David Burns, MD, author of Feeling Good.
- Challenging negative self talk: Challenging negative self-talk : The Facts : ReachOut.com USA
- Common thinking errors: Common Thinking Errors | Ways To Challenge Cognitive Thinking Errors : The Facts : ReachOut.com USA
- What to do when positive Self Talk doesn’t work
- 6 ways to say no to negative self talk
- Teens + Self Talk: Using your thoughts, feeling and actions (Mayo Clinic)