Have you had enough of intrusive thoughts that keep popping in your head and just won’t go away? Maybe it’s time to ditch some of these thinking patterns that might be holding you back.
The human mind is a funny thing. It can be razor-sharp when it needs to be but if you’re not careful with how to use it, it’ll surely land you some papercuts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a user manual so we’ve got to figure it out ourselves.
You know how they popularly say,
We suffer more in the mind than in reality.
Within that is the implication that the human mind isn’t always the best at knowing reality, listening to reason, or catching its own blind spots. Which makes sense, if something’s in your blind spot, it’s hidden from you, obscured and unknown to your own mind. So how do you know what you don’t know?
Here are a few prevalent thinking patterns to watch out for —
1. Jumping to conclusions about other people’s behavior
The human brain needs to make a lot of assumptions about the world and its surroundings. In order to conserve energy on processing absolutely everything, the mind automates. Just like a habit becomes almost instinctive after repeating the same action over and over again, the same is true for thinking patterns.
Neurons that fire together wire together.
And the more they fire, the tighter the net becomes.
Bad habits that we repeat are easy to spot because they are visible to the eye. Not just to your own eyes but also to others’ so if you don’t realize the peculiarity of your own conduct, don’t worry, someone else will gladly point it out for you.
The same, however, is not true for thought patterns because they are not physical. Thought patterns are harder to spot and sometimes they are so instinctual, you don’t even realize when you have already made an assumption. It literally happens quicker than the blink of an eye.
Here, we’re specifically talking about conclusions we draw about other people’s behavior and what the behavior might mean. As if we have any means to know the truth for sure.
For example, reading too much into someone’s short reply, automatically assuming they might be upset with you. Or misconstruing someone’s lack of response to mean something similar. Or being convinced that your significant other leaves his socks on the sofa because he does not have an ounce of respect for you.
Let that sink in. It’s a nasty trap that takes a major toll on any kind of relationship. Jumping to conclusions about why people do what they do is an unhealthy yet rampant thinking pattern and all of our lives would be richer without it. So next time you’re upset with someone, ask yourself —
What conclusions am I drawing about their behavior?
Because honey, it’s not personal. Don’t believe it to be so just because you’re mind says it.
2. Putting invisible expectations on yourself
This thought pattern is interesting because it often disguises itself as a thought that’s not even your own. We often feel the pressure of other people’s expectations and it’s a heavy burden that we carry. But more often than not we expect a lot more from ourselves than other people do from us. I’m not saying that other people’s expectations from you aren’t real nor am I saying you shouldn’t care about other people’s expectations and just do whatever the hell you want, that’s a different blog post, all I’m saying here is that there are some expectations that are serving no one. Not you, not them, no one. It’s a lose-lose situation and it’s got to go.
I’m talking about expectations like “I can do it all by myself”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I’ve got to be there for my partner”.
Take a deep breath. Two if you really have to and try to understand that this is your own mind playing tricks on you. While there are many ways to rewire this thinking pattern, the more important thing to note is that a line of reasoning like “I’m not good enough” is a personal assault. It might have become normalized for you, you might even be numb to it but it is not normal to think that way neither is it desirable. Simply telling your brain to not think that particular thought won’t do the trick either but whatever your approach may be, it begins with the acknowledgment and identification of the poisonous nature of this thinking pattern.
Self-blame never helped anyone. Mostly because it’s not trying to.
And there are people who can take serious advantage of a thought pattern like this, especially in the work environment or intimate relationships. So become aware of the thoughts that attack you and rewire your brain to think the thoughts that build you up instead.
3. Excessive complaining
Don’t get me wrong, this isn't to point fingers at anyone but casual complaining even about seemingly mundane stuff can be a sign of something deeper.
The human brain has a proclivity for negative thinking and is five times more likely to believe a negative piece of information than a positive one. And on the surface, tiny complaints about food or the weather might seem banal but it is not without consequences. By not catching yourself whenever you complain, you are actually slowly and slowly wiring your brain to think negatively, one thought at a time. And it might seem harmless but eventually, when a dark period in life comes along, you’d be praying for a single positive thought which might seem impossible in the moment because the foundations for it were not set ahead of time.
Complaining has another facet to it. If it’s not just a bad thought pattern, it usually is an expression of a deeper problem. The complaining might be trying to highlight a deeper emotion of anger or resentment or even dissatisfaction in life. Because let’s be honest, people who are satisfied with their lives do not complain.
Luckily, it’s easy to spin this wheel in the opposite direction and it all starts with becoming consciously aware of yourself every time you complain.
4. Over-explanation or over-clarification
We all have that one friend who has an abstract and an introduction in the beginning and a detailed prologue at the end for a single sentence idea. It is very hard to keep track of what one is actually trying to say when they make so many addendums to what they actually have to say. Moreover, people who aren’t succinct and explain their every single word often come across as lacking in confidence.
If you’re one of those people, I’m sure you often find yourself at the receiving end of people’s impatience and short-temper. Now that particular response might not be your fault but your insistence on giving explanations is taking a huge toll on you.
Every time you find yourself using multiple sentences where a single one would do, stop yourself and ask —
Why do I feel the need to say this sentence? Or why do I feel the need to explain?
And if you come up with answers like, “I don’t want people to misunderstand”, “I want to make sure that my point is not misconstrued”, you need to understand that you cannot control what people think about you or about what you have to say. And you also need to trust that if people misunderstand you, they always have an option to take it up with you and then you can feel free to unleash those long-winded, bulleted explanations.
Until then, bite your tongue on those extra words that dilute the meaning of what you have to say. Perhaps not all at once, but you will eventually notice your clarity and articulation improving over time. It’ll make you a better communicator.
5. Believing all your thoughts
Admittedly, this one is on an advanced level. For a long time, it might feel like you’re hitting your head against the wall if this is a particular thinking pattern that you have. But it is extremely common and chances are you have this somewhere in your thinking process.
In many ways, all the other thinking patterns mentioned above have some form of belief in one’s own thoughts at the heart of the distortion. Since the issue with thoughts or thinking patterns is not that they exist even if they might be negative or horrifying thoughts, the actual problem is believing them to be true. Without belief, thoughts are actually quite benign.
On the flip side, this is what makes positive affirmations so powerful.
The power is in the belief and not in the thought itself.
A few CBT techniques from OCD treatment come in handy with this particular thought pattern. The one that I use is watching my thoughts pass by like trains on distant train tracks and the key is to attach no meaning to them. Just be a spectator to your own stream of consciousness.
Another technique you can use is to question the thought and every time you find yourself believing in it, ask yourself —
Is that thought true? Could I possibly know it to be true?
At first, when you’re in thick fog, your brain will insist that the thought is true but with practice, you’d be able to see distortions in your reasoning. Until then, don’t go and believe every thought that pops into your head.
So there you have it. A little sneak peek into the clockwork mechanism that is your mind. It is hard navigating modern life. We’re all a little anxious on planet earth, we could all use a little bit of help, and we could all use a little bit of compassion.
Be patient with your progress and you’ll surely see the results of rewiring your mind to generate more uplifting and positive thinking patterns.
If there are any interesting thinking patterns you have to report, let me know in the comments!