Parents Have To Know: How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts

October 14, 2017
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Every kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not normal.

Parents Have To Know: How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts

“I didn’t get invited to Julie’s party… I’m such a loser.”

“I missed the bus… nothing ever goes my way.”

“My science teacher wanted to see me… I must be in trouble.”

These were the thoughts of a high school student named James. You wouldn’t know they were from his thoughts, but James is actually pretty popular and gets decent grades.

Unfortunately, in the face of adversity, James made a common error; he had fallen into what I would like to call “thought holes.” Thought holes, or cognitive distortions, are skewed perceptions of reality. They are negative interpretations of a situation based on poor assumptions. For James, thought holes caused intense emotional distress.

Here’s the thing, all kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not normal. Studies show that self-defeating thoughts (i.e., “I’m a loser”) will lead to self-defeating emotions (i.e., pain, anxiety, malaise) that, in turn, causing self-defeating actions (i.e., acting out, skipping school). If left unchecked, this tendency may as well lead to even more severe conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Fortunately, in a few steps, we can teach teens how to get over their thought holes. It’s time to ditch the idea of positive thinking and introduce the tool of accurate thinking. The lesson begins with understanding of what causes inaccurate thinking in the first place.

We Create Our Own (Often Distorted) Reality

One person walked down a busy street and on his way noticed graffiti on the wall, dirt on the pavement and a couple fighting. Another person walked down the same street and noticed a refreshing breeze, an ice cream cart and a smile from a stranger. We each absorb select scenes in our environment through which we shall interpret the situation. In essence, we create our own reality through which we pay attention to.

Why don’t we just interpret the situations based on all of the information? It’s actually impossible, there are simply too many stimuli to process. In fact, the subconscious mind can absorb 20 million bits of information through all five senses in a mere second. Data is then filtered down so that the conscious mind focuses on only about 7 to 40 bits. This is a mental shortcut.

Shortcuts keep us sane by preventing sensory overload. They help us judge situations quickly. Shortcuts also, however, leave us vulnerable to errors in perception. Because we perceive reality based on a tiny sliver of information, if those information becomes unbalanced (e.g., ignores the positive and focuses on the negative), we would be left with a skewed perception of reality, or a thought hole.

Eight Common Thought Holes

Not only are we susceptible to errors in thinking, but we also tend to make those same errors over and over again. Seminal work by psychologist Aaron Beck, often referred to as the father of cognitive therapy, and his former student, David Burns, uncovered several common thought holes as seen below.

Jumping to conclusions: judging a situation based on assumptions in opposed to definitive facts
Mental filtering: paying attention only to the negative details in a situation while ignoring the positive
Magnifying: magnifying negative aspects of a situation
Minimizing: minimizing positive aspects of a situation
Personalizing: assuming the blame for problems even when you are not primarily responsible
Externalizing: pushing the blame for problems onto others even when you are primarily responsible
Overgeneralizing: concluding that one bad incident will lead to a repeated pattern of defeat
Emotional reasoning: assuming your negative emotions translate into reality, or confusing feelings with facts

Going from Distorted Thinking to Accurate Thinking

Once teens understand why they had fallen into thought holes and that several common ones exist, they are ready to start filling them in by trying a method developed by GoZen! called the 3Cs:
Check for common thought holes
Collect evidences to develop an accurate picture
Challenge the original thoughts

Let’s run through the 3Cs using James as an example. James was recently asked by his science teacher to chat after class. He immediately thought, “I must be in trouble,” and began to feel distressed.
Using the 3Cs, James should first check to see if he had fallen into one of those common thought holes. Based on the list above, it seems he had jumped to a conclusion.
James’s next step is to collect as much data or evidences as possible to create a more accurate picture of the situation. His evidences may look something like the following statements:

“I usually get good grades in science class.”

“Teachers sometimes ask you to chat after class when something is wrong.”

“I’ve never been in trouble before.”

“The science teacher didn’t seem upset when he asked me to chat.”

With all the evidence at hand, James can now challenge his original thought. The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is for James to have a debate with himself.

On one side is the James who believes he was in big trouble with his science teacher; on the other side is the James who believes that nothing was really wrong. James could use the evidence he collected to duke it out with himself! In the end, this type of self-disputation increases accurate thinking and improves emotional well-being.

Let’s teach our teens that thoughts, even distorted ones, can affect their emotional well-being. Let’s teach them to forget positive thinking and try accurate thinking instead. Above all, let’s teach our teens that they have the power to choose their thoughts.

As the pioneering psychologist and philosopher, William James, once time said that, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

When was the last time you had to circle back home for a vital piece of the day you forgot? How irritated were you?

Viral: Teen Girl Comes Running at Him. Takes One Look at Her Face, Hops in Truck and Calls 911

Some believes that there are no coincidences, that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what Earl Melchert believed before Sept. 5, but I bet he’ll never grumble about such an error ever again.

Melchert had returned to his home in Barrett, Minnesota mid-day to pick up the diesel can he’d intended to fill up on his way home from work. In the distance, he spied what he thought was a deer, but as it ran closer, he realized it was a person!

The deer turned out to be a terrified 15-year-old girl by the name of Jasmine Block. She was soaking wet and anxious to take refuge inside Melchert’s truck.
Melcher, however, recognized the girl instantly. He’d seen her face on the news, on flyers, and plastered across the internet. Block had been missing from her Alexandria, Minnesota home since Aug. 9.

According to Block, on that night Jay Baker, the 32-year-old father of her friend, came to her home late at night soliciting her help with his son. Block got into his truck and accompanied Barker to his house in Carlos, Minnesota.

Once there, Block was restrained with zip ties. For 29 days, Baker, along with his two friends Jason Lee Holby, 31, and Michael Samuel Powers, 21, kept and continously sexually assaulted her. They repeatedly moved her to different locations.

Block told investigators that Baker tried to kill her thrice, once by trying to drown her in the bathtub, though he lacked the needed strength due to his cerebral palsy. On Sept. 5, two of the men were transporting Block in a duffel back in the back of a pick-up truck. When the two went inside a convenience store, Block saw her opportunity and made a dash for it. When she was not successful finding help in nearby houses, she swam across a lake reaching land near Melchert’s home.

Block’s captors were actively looking for her, hence her desperation to get inside Melchert’s truck. She pointed them out as Melchert called 911, and again when the police arrived, which ultimately led to the arrest of all three presumed captors.

Powers has confessed to spending two weeks at Baker’s residence and engaging in sexual conduct with the child. Baker, on the other hand, admits to heavy drug and alcohol use but refutes any accusations of acquaintance with Block, including picking her up and holding her captive.

For Melchert’s efforts, the Alexandria Police Department presented the reward money offered to anyone who assisted in Block’s return. The $7,000 appreciation was put up by Block’s family and an anonymous donor.

Today we witnessed an incredible example of kindness. Earl Melchert, the man who made the call everyone was waiting for on 09-05-17, was presented with the reward money that had been offered by the Sarah Block family and an anonymous source.
What no one expected was the kindness and generosity that came straight from Earl’s heart today. He believes that young lady that came running towards him that September day is the real hero and without hesitation, Earl handed the reward over to her, followed by a big hug. Thank you Earl, it is people like you that make this world a better place.
Have a great day everyone and please remember to be kind to one another.
Chief Rick Wyffels

Melchert, who just retired last week, surprised everyone when he smile, turned, and immediately handed the check to Block and gave her a big hug. “It’s the best thing I could have ever done,” said Melchert to the New York Times. “What a retirement present, to hand over some money to people that really need it.”

If Melchert hadn’t left his diesel can, he wouldn’t have been home to save Block’s life. The next time I have to double back in my day, instead of being frustrated, I’ll ask myself how this may fit in a bigger picture.

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