Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rid Your Mind of Negative Thoughts

It sounds too good to be true.

Ohio State University professor Richard Petty recommends this therapy. If you want to rid your mind of negative, disparaging thoughts about yourself, just write them down on a piece of paper and throw it away.

Your negative thoughts will go out with the trash.

If, however, you write down your negative thoughts and don't throw them away, you will continue to think ill of yourself.

Whether or not it works, it has one thing going for it: it costs nothing.

It also sounds like it is well beneath your dignity as a serious thinker. So, allow me to put it into context.

When Aaron Beck invented cognitive therapy for depression he instructed his patients to perform a homework exercise:

First, they were to write down one of the self-deprecating thoughts that had been tormenting them. Something like: I am not worthy; or I never get anything right.

Second, under the sentence they were to draw a line dividing the piece of paper into two columns.

Third, in one column they were to list facts about themselves that confirmed the negative judgment. That is, reasons why they really were not worthy.

Fourth, in the other column they were to list facts about themselves that disproved the negative judgment. That is, reasons why they were worthy.

It didn’t matter how deeply convinced they were of any of the facts. They finished the exercise with a chart. The chart showed negative thoughts being subjected to doubt.

In place of the monomaniacal focus on negative thoughts they would have produced a more balanced judgment of their character or achievements.

Thus, would the hold of the negative thought be weakened and depressive moods diminished.

In many ways Beck discovered a writing cure. It was also a cure for psychotherapy’s obsessive interest in introspection. 

If you put your thoughts outside your mind, in a place where you can evaluate them objectively and from a distance you will have more control over them.

If you keep them inside you will believe that you are powerless to control them.

Prof. Petty’s technique is a variation on Aaron Beck’s theme, but it begins with externalizing thought.

But why does Petty want you to throw away the piece of paper that contains your negative thoughts?

For one, if you toss it in the trash no one will ever see it.

If you put it in your pocket or leave it in a notebook or diary, then it is always possible that someone might see it.

What makes thoughts your own is not that you are thinking them but that other people know you are thinking them. If no one else knows that you are thinking ill of yourself, the negative thoughts will lose their ability to influence you.

It’s a lot easier to rid your mind of a negative thought about yourself than it is to rid someone else’s mind of a negative thought about you.

It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: don’t post your negative thoughts on Facebook or to text them to your friends.

Once you tell the world that you hate your body or feel like a chump you will find it much more difficult to rid your mind of the thought.

In short: share your best; keep the worst to yourself. If you can’t conjure it by other means, try writing it down and tossing it in the trash.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Despite a traumatic childhood with my Ma who suffered from Borderline Personality, I've been lucky. Military service, 40 year career as speechwriter, now retired in modest comfort.

A few breakdowns along the way, inability to sustain relationships. I take comfort from knowing I was a good son and big brother. My demented alcoholic sister nearly killed me once.

I've learned that No therapy of any kind can cure my affliction. I count my blessings. -- Rich

Dennis said...

I suspect as human begins we are capable of both positive and negative thoughts. It is the thoughts we act upon that make us what we are as a person. We are made of three distinct parts that we ignore at our peril. These are mind, body and spirit. The more we try to distance ourselves from any part the more dysfunctional we become.