As we go through life, we grow physically and age chronologically, but what happens to us mentally and emotionally? Have you grown mentally and emotionally or are you using the same methods to live your life that you learned as a child? Let’s examine how to challenge our thinking to live the best life possible.
I was raised in a wonderful family. There were, however, unwritten rules about how to behave and get along with each other. Those rules worked OK for me however, there were conflicts with my roommates in college that never happened in the confines of my family.
I remember the first time my unwritten rules were clearly not working for me. A group of us had decided to go camping together. As we got closer to the date, people started to drop out. Eventually the trip was cancelled. I was so angry! My unwritten rule of 'doing what you said you're going to do' had gotten way out of balance. It didn't allow for flexibility. That camping trip wasn't the biggest thing in the world but I made it a big deal by my reaction. A friend helped me challenge my rigid thinking and let go of my anger.
Change isn’t easy
In my battle with anxiety and depression I learned skills to change my way of unhealthy thinking. I stopped saying, 'what if this bad thing will happen?!?' or 'what if that bad thing will happen ?!?' Those questions were so automatic to me but once I realized what I was doing, I was able to stop that pesky 'what if?' thinking.
Another challenge was to stop my negative thinking. I carried around a little notebook and recorded each time I had a thought that made me mad, sad, angry, frustrated, agitated, hopeless, bitter, judgmental, or any other negative emotion. There was a particular Sunday where my hand hurt from writing all the negative stuff. But then I re-wrote each thought in a more positive way by rephrasing it. This tangible way of challenging my thinking changed my life.
A few years ago, I read a book called The Four Agreements and it really challenged my thinking. The agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don't take anything personally
- Don't make assumptions
- Always to your best
Except for #4, these were really hard for me. I routinely judged myself and others with my words. I tended to take most things other people said personally. I also made constant assumptions about what was being said or done and then draw a (usually negative) conclusion. Almost immediately I saw that challenging my automatic thoughts and being intentional about putting these agreements into practice made my life so much better. It also reduced the drama that I'd been creating in my life.
. . . but do it anyway
Are you operating with the same mental and emotional rules set there from your childhood? What other ways of relating to others would work better in your life? Sometimes we don’t realize that it’s not the people around us that need to change for us to feel better, . . . it’s us. It's difficult, but we need to do it anyway.
Start by looking at an emotional challenge you're having and ask yourself what your part in the difficulty is. Challenge your thinking to come up with a solution.
They annoy me so much
- Why do they annoy me so much?
- Why does that characteristic in them bother me?
- Why can’t I just let it go?
I just can’t seem to get through to her
- Why am I trying so hard to get through to her when it’s clear she doesn’t want to listen?
- Is there another way to communicate?
- What don't I understand about her that's causing my ideas to be ignored?
It’s hard for me to love him
- Why is it hard for me to love him?
- What am I taking personally?
- How do I define love?
I just don’t think I’m valuable
- Why don’t I believe I’m valuable?
- What's wrong with me that’s not wrong with anyone else?
- How do I define value?
If you’re holding on to outdated ideas that are causing you to suffer, challenge your thinking. Ask yourself difficult questions and . . .
. . . keep digging until you get to the real answer.
Read my other blogs about challenging your thinking:
Spiritual Health - Challenge Your Spiritual Thinking
Physical Health - Challenge Your Thinking About Your Body