Welcome to the first of many articles that I have written specifically focused on the mind games we play. Essentially making us our own worsts enemy. The first thought that I will discuss is the Always and Never Mentality. These are my thoughts, adapted from research, articles and books, that I have formed over my years of experience and trainings in Cognitive Therapy.
Think about how many times you have said the statement “things are always going to be this way” or “this will never change” or more common in relationships, “you always do …” or “you never do…” These are prime examples of the always/never mentality. This may not seem like a problematic process; however it can have serious effects on how we see the world, ourselves and others. If you truly believe in what you are thinking, that things always happen a certain way or always have the same outcome, than imagine the effect that will have on your behaviors. Even if you do not truly believe these thoughts, the mere fact that you are having them can lead to problem behaviors or lack of action. Our thoughts, whether accurate or not have a profound impact on our lives. Just making a simple statement of “this always happens to me” or “you never take out the trash” leaves a negative feeling left behind.
Take a minute to think about what happens when you have these thoughts. Does it stop you from asking a question, or completing a task or any number of actions that you could have taken if you were thinking more clearly? For example, a person is gearing up to ask for a raise at work. They feel like they deserve and it is the right time to ask. But then they start thinking about their manager/supervisor and how they react to raises and promotions. “My boss never rewards people; they always find a way to say no. It’s just not in the budget right now they say. What’s the point? I always get the short end of the stick when it comes to my job.” Look at the progression of the example, starting with the idea that one deserves a raise and it’s time to ask to essentially “what’s the point.” This person is not going to ask for a raise and will be resentful at work and probably have an increased misery as the days go by.
I am going to examine this simple situation in more detail to demonstrate a healthier view that might lead to more positive results. First, here is a list of questions to ask yourself in a situation that involves the Always/never phenomenon.
Questions to ask
- If you were to list every time this situation came about, does it always end in the same manner? Has there ever been a different result?
- In the event that something truly is always and never, is it possible that this time will be different? What can I learn from the past that will help me change the results? (Why do we study history?)
- What is a more accurate or realistic thought for this situation? How else can you think about the situation?
- In comparing the original thought with the new thought, how do you know which one is more realistic?
If you were to list every time this situation came about, does it always end in the same manner? Has there ever been a different result?
In looking at the above example, one could ask themselves this question and find that their boss has given raises before. It would be hard to find in any given situation not even one outlier. In the definition of always and never, it clearly states that something has the same result in every occurrence. Even having one outlier proves that something does not always or never happen. If that is the case, then one would have to question the original idea that they will not get a raise, at least to some extent.
In the event that something truly is always and never, is it possible that this time will be different? What can I learn from the past that will help me change the results? (Why do we study history?)
This is a question I asked myself in school, “Why do I have to study history, it’s in the past, can we move on?” But the truth is, history is very important to study, as the saying going if you don’t “history is doomed to repeat itself.” Again, in the highly unlikely event that this thought is accurate (which probably would suggest not enough information or data to confirm or disconfirm), what can you learn to change the result. Very similar to the previous question, if you were to change something you did or something about the situation itself, would that make a difference? In examining the promotion situation further, one can look back at the last time they asked for a promotion and see that they did not communicate what they wanted effectively. It is very likely that the person did not make it clear they were looking for a promotion or a raise. Or they did not present the question at the right time. What if the supervisor was in a hurry or in a bad mood that day? Or maybe the persons’ performance has improved to where they are a more likely candidate for a promotion. It is possible the person in question is not looking very accurately at themselves or the situation. The company could have realistically not had any open positions or financial resources to compensate at other times, but maybe they do now.
What is a more accurate or realistic thought for this situation? How else can you think about the situation?
Maybe you can address the situation using a different strategy or mindset. Would that result in a different ending? Perhaps changing the desired result might make the situation change. In the above situation, maybe there is a higher purpose or meaning to the raise. This person is looking for recognition, acknowledgment and fairness. When one asks for a raise or a promotion, these are usually at the core of what one is asking for. If the person were to take the numeric value off the raise and only those three things, than there might be a different result. Or this might lead to a greater action of “I am not getting what I really need here, I am going to find a new job” or “I need to find what I want elsewhere.”
The more realistic thought in this situation is, “there is a chance I can get a promotion or a raise.” The exact odds are unknown, and cannot be known, but what you do know is that, without asking for a raise, the odds of getting one is 0 percent. One could take a more negative route and remain in the realistic realm. “Based on my experience, I can get a raise, but it’s a small likelihood. Asking will not hurt me. Whether I get a yes or no, at least I will know what direction to take with my career.”
In comparing the original thought with the new thought, how do you know which one is more realistic?
The answer to this question is simple…just look at the evidence. All the evidence points to “there is a chance I can get a promotion or raise.” But, regardless of the actual outcome, “I will learn something from this situation that will help me move further in my career and life.” Given the new, accurate and realistic thought, then there will be a change in the situation and the behaviors for the better.
Dr. Greg Schwarz, Psy.D is a licensed psychologist and Co-owner of Burbank Therapeutic Centers, A psychological corporation. Dr. Schwarz has been working in the mental health field for more than 20 years. Currently providing individual therapy in Burbank, CA, he specializes in severe anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, with a sub-specialty working with older adults. BTC was founded on the principles that therapy should be specifically designed for the person seeking help and the therapist and client should have similar styles in order for therapy to work. Each client who contacts BTC is thoroughly screened to ensure we are able to effectively treat them, This avoids unnecessary sessions and allows us to individualize the therapy to each person due to the advanced knowledge we have in their particular problem area.