Life / Can Do

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Posts Tagged ‘mental health

What You Think Is More Important than What You Eat

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Just as you can choose to which foods you put in your body, you can also choose what thoughts to have in your mind. And, just as low quality, unhealthy foods can have a negative impact on your physical health, low quality, unhealthy thoughts can be detrimental to your mental state.

I want to avoid labeling thoughts as “good” or “bad”. Using terms “good” or “bad” would be placing judgement on your thoughts and may lead one to think that they are a bad person for having bad thoughts. Rather let’s use the term maladaptive which is a fantastic word therapists uses to describe what most would call “negative thoughts”. To be consistent with other resources and help with understanding, I may use the term “negative thought” as well. Just know that this does not imply a judgement.

Below is Google’s definition of maladaptive:

not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environment or situation.

To promote mental health one can try to control thoughts that are not adjusted to the environment or situation. For example, if it rains on the day you planned to go hiking, the thought, “Why does it always rain when I want to do something outside!” could be considered maladaptive because there is really no connection between the rain and your plans. Thinking that a natural process is working against you is not rational or realistic. Also, the thought, “I should have planned for rain! I’m so stupid” can also be considered maladaptive. It would have been helpful if you had planned for rain, but not doing so is not a reflection on your intelligence. A rational approach would be to consider it as a learning opportunity so you can take steps to account for rain in your future plans. You can replace your maladaptive thought with the rational thought, “If I had planned for rain, I could have packed rain gear and we would have had the unique opportunity of hiking in the rain. In the future, I’ll do that.”

As you can see above, the rational thought would have a person better prepared to handle rain in the future while feeling better in the present.

With dieters we often hear something along these lines: “I’ve tried every diet there is. I just can’t lose weight.” While we know that it is more difficult for some people to lose weight than others, we also know that anyone can lose weight with the right strategies. We can also be sure that this person has not tried “every” diet. A more rational thought could be, “I’ve tried a number of different diets that don’t appear to work for me. Could there be flaws in my approach that I am not aware of? I need to gather more information. I’m sure there is an approach that will work for me that I just have not found yet.”

One approach to changing how you think is to write down your maladaptive thoughts and then right down a rational thought for each. Seriously, don’t just do it in your head. If you want to improve how you think you will need to write it down. You don’t get points for good intentions.

Below is an example of an automatic thought/rational response listing:

Automatic Thought
I failed my exam. I am so stupid.

Rational Response
Obviously, I wasn’t prepared for the exam but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’ve done well in other exams. What can I do in the future to better prepare myself for an exam?

From the example above, you can see how simple it would be to use this strategy. You can use a paper notebook or word processing software such as Google Docs or Google Sheets. Don’t worry about the medium or the format – just use what you prefer. It’s the process that is important, not the specifics.

I’ve just scratched the surface on the subject of automatic negative thoughts. I suggest you read more. Below is a link to an article that goes into more details:

AHHA: ANT Therapy

It’s surprising how few people know about techniques for managing negative thoughts. When you consider that just about everyone knows that physical exercise is beneficial to your health, why wouldn’t strategies for improving mental health be just as well known? I suspect the stigma of having mental health issues prevents people from even discussing it. There may be a fear that if you do work to improve your mental health, that people may think your mentally unstable. The truth is that everyone could benefit from the strategies.

Once I was asked by friend, “Why do you exercise and eat healthy? You are in great shape.” I was stunned at the person’s lack of understanding of a healthy lifestyle. It’s not a series of actions to get to a certain point and then stop. It’s a way of being. The same applies to developing mental fitness. I don’t do it because I’m mentally ill – I do it because I want a healthy lifestyle.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

July 31, 2014 at 9:39 am