Feeling Demoralized? Try This

The key technique for eliminating pessimism from your mind is published here: Undemoralize Yourself. The principle is to argue with your negative thoughts. Remember, you have little hope of helping make the world a less pessimistic place until your own mind is free of unnecessary negativity.

One practical way to argue with your negative thoughts is to first memorize the list of thought-mistakes (otherwise known as virus definitions). Take a week or two and drill yourself on them like you used to do with your multiplication tables. When you’re ready, write out a negative thought you have, and see how many thought-mistakes you can find in your statement.

Let’s say you have a disagreement with someone at work and you lose your cool. You get mad and yell at someone. Later, when you think about it, you feel kind of bummed out because of what you did. What should you do? Undemoralize yourself, of course.

So ask yourself, “What do I think caused it?” What do you think caused you to lose your cool?

Let’s say you write, “Pete is a jerk.”

Now look at your statement. And check it against the list. Just go right down the list, checking each one. The first one is exaggerating. Are you exaggerating? Maybe. But it doesn't hit home. Let's keep going.

Next one on the list: overgeneralizing. Bingo. Anytime you label someone, you can be pretty sure it's an overgeneralization. Everyone has good points and bad points. Human beings are complex. It's a mistake to summarize something very complex with a simple label. It’s bound to be inaccurate, no matter what it is. "Pete is a jerk" is an overgeneralization of Pete's personality. Try to make a more accurate statement and see how it fits. How about this: "Pete did something I didn’t like."

Do you see how that's less upsetting? Removing the mistake and making a more accurate statement takes some of the intensity out of the negative feeling. Why? Because the intensity was caused by a distorted view. You’ve found a view that's more in line with reality and your emotions are less intense in response.

Please be clear you are not trying to make positive statements. If you try to make your explanation “positive” it won't work because you won't believe it. If you don't believe it, your feelings won't change.

All we’re doing here is trying to clear up mistakes. Just try to make your explanations more accurate.

Later on down the list you see extremism, misplacing responsibility, and harmful judging. They all apply. Your implies that losing your cool is all Pete’s fault. That's extremism (all-or-nothing thinking). You had a part to play. You could have done something that made Pete less of a "jerk" or made your outburst less likely. Think about what you could do differently next time.

When you realize an event has more than one influencing factor, you will also discover you are one of those factors. You might do something different that would create a different outcome next time. This way of thinking turns setbacks into good training for future situations.

For example, Jim’s wife is mad at him, called him names and left the house, slamming the door behind her. He's feeling negative emotions at the moment, so he sits down to undemoralize himself.

"What am I thinking that is making me feel upset?" he asks himself. And he writes, “She hates me.”

Then he looks at this statement to see how many thought-mistakes he can find in it. In this case, it is exaggerating, oversimplifying, and using emotions as evidence, among others.

He writes another thought he’s thinking: “I’m a complete jerk.” Again he looks at this one, trying to find the violations of sanity, if you will — trying to find the cognitive distortions, the mistakes, in this negative thought.

“I’m a complete jerk,” is of course an overgeneralization, and harmful judging too.

Judging yourself or others is a major source of negativity that makes you feel negative emotions you don’t need and that don’t help you. Feeling angry because of a negative judgment you make of yourself or someone else is unnecessary suffering.

Look at your judgments. Write them down and argue with them and you will often find out the reality is less dire, less upsetting, than you had been thinking.

You just saved yourself some unnecessary negative emotion. You saved yourself some unnecessary wear and tear on your heart.

Let’s try another one. A woman thinks, “Since I’ve already blown my diet, I might as well just go for it and eat the rest of the ice cream too.” This is extremism, self-defeating conclusions, and ignoring alternatives.

“Nobody likes me.” That’s negative guessing and probably dismissing facts and an overgeneralization.

“She shouldn’t treat me like that.” That’s an easy one: shoulds and musts.

The practical method I'm advocating here is to first memorize the list. If you see something on that list you don't think should be there, read the article about it. When you read the descriptions and examples for each thought-mistake, you will understand why each is a mistake. So later, when you catch yourself making one of those mistakes, you can instantly invalidate your negative thought because you’ve already recognized the whole class of negative thought — of which your particular thought is a member — is erroneous.

Memorize the list first and your whole job is quicker and easier.

When you learn the 22 thought-mistakes before they’re associated with a particular thought of yours. you don’t have the problem of overcoming your own naturally-occurring defensiveness when you’re analyzing your statements.

I know memorizing a list takes some time and effort. But the freedom from unnecessary negative emotions is worth the trouble.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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