When you are thinking about a situation, do you notice if your thoughts are going to the extreme? Do you tend to catastrophize or assume the worst? Do you often think in “What if?” terms? If you said yes, you are not alone!
Most of us tend to think about the worst-case scenario when contemplating a problem. And I would venture to guess that this is fairly common behavior. However, I would also say that if you tend to stay focused on the worst “what if” scenario, you are causing yourself way too much grief! The problem with extreme thinking is that it backs us into a corner. We get stuck and find there is no place else to go. This is where we tend to stew and worry causing us to feel emotionally overwhelmed and unable to act.
If you recognize yourself in this description, fear not! It is possible to change this behavior. Extreme thinking is a learned response. If we learned it, we can un-learn it and replace it with a healthier behavior.
The first step is to pay attention to your thoughts. Many of us tend to act out our feelings or respond impulsively. Recognize your emotions and then identify the thoughts that are causing that emotion. Often times our thoughts tend to be what we believe on an emotional level, not based in what is realistic. A simple example is when we make a mistake and tell ourselves, “I can’t do anything right!” This can start a downward spiral of negative thoughts about ourselves. And repeated enough times, we tend to believe these thoughts! What if we acknowledge the feeling about the mistake and then make a realistic statement about what can do next? Something like, “I am really frustrated I got that wrong! I know I can do better if I slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing.”
The goal in doing this is to keep our thoughts from going to the extreme. Our thoughts then, take our emotions to an extreme. This extreme state prevents up from responding appropriately to a situation. Just think about first responders. They need to keep calm and do their job. If they let their emotions get the best of them, they would not be able to help others. We are simply doing the same thing, just on a personal level!
So, when you are feeling stuck, take a deep breath, exhale and move towards the middle!