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July 25, 2023
Think of your negative thoughts in two parts. Just as Dr. Seuss has thing one and thing two, anxiety is very similar. Anxiety has anxiety one and anxiety two. Anxiety one is your automatic, knee jerk reaction. We call this an automatic thought. On the other hand, anxiety two is what succeeds the initial anxiety or knee jerk response you have. We can’t always control the initial response of anxiety, but what happens next, is completely up to us. We are in complete control of anxiety two. That is where we should place our focus. That is what we should spend our energy and mental resources on. So let's dive into how we learn to control anxiety two.
To paint a picture, imagine yourself experiencing distressing situation X. You immediately feel anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, scared, sad, angry, etc. (insert a distressing emotion you consistently feel). What are you going to do next? How can you control the incoming anxiety two? It begins with asking yourself these 3 questions:
Is this thought ACCURATE?
To understand this question clearly, think of a lawyer in court. When they are presenting their case, only concrete evidence is allowed. There is no hearsay in court. So ask your thought: “is this thought actually ACCURATE? What is the specific evidence behind this thought? What is the root cause of this thought? If there is no concrete evidence or truth to that thought, you probably shouldn’t be thinking it.
Something to be noted - there may be a sliver of truth or accuracy to certain thoughts we have. However, just because there is slight truth to that thought, it doesn’t make the entire thought accurate. For example, I get the results back from a recent exam I took. I failed the test. Anxiety one immediately kicks in and I feel like the ULTIMATE FAILURE. I am so dumb. I can never learn this. The negative comments go on and on. Before anxiety two can kick in, I ask myself - “Is this thought accurate?” Well, I did just fail the test. Am I a complete failure? No. Am I truly dumb? No. Can I really never learn this information? Of course I can. Maybe I didn’t put enough time into studying, didn’t get a good night's rest beforehand, or go to office hours to learn more about my weak points. I messed up and failed the test (sliver of truth). Am I a complete failure? No. So the thought truly isn’t accurate and I curb anxiety two. I will work harder to prepare for the next test and do fine then.
Is this thought HELPFUL?
We often categorize emotions as positive or negative types. However, there are no such things as positive and negative emotions. All emotions have the potential to serve a purpose. However, they don’t always do. Your thoughts and emotions should help you process and progress. If they do, they are purposeful. If they don’t, they lack purpose. For example, you experience situation X and feeling anxiety one. To curb anxiety two, ask yourself these sorts of questions: Is this thought adding any positive value to my life? Can thinking this thought change the past? Can it change the circumstances? Is this thought based on something that I can control? If it is not, we shouldn’t be dwelling on that thought. No matter how much attention we give it, it will not make our life better.
Actually overcoming the thought (anxiety two) can be very difficult. But a big step in being able to do this, is the self-awareness that the thought is not helpful. This thought is not helping me to process and progress my life. Therefore, I am moving on from it.
Do I want to BUY this thought?
Think about your money. You only have a finite amount. Every time you buy something, it takes away from your financial resources. You have to pick and choose the things you spend your money on. You ask yourself, is thing X worth the $ price I have to pay? If it is, you buy it. If it isn’t, you don’t. Think of your mental thoughts the same way. You have a finite amount of mental resources. The same way you financially ask yourself, is this worth it, you can ask yourself is this mentally worth it? Am I willing to give the mental resources to this thought? Do I truly want to BUY this thought?
By asking yourself these 3 questions - “Is this thought accurate,” “Is this thought helpful,” and “Do I want to buy this thought,” you will be able to better control and overcome anxiety two. As you do this, your life will improve and you will find greater fulfillment.
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