Sunday, July 6, 2008

Topic 14. Primary Thinking Error

While we might use multiple thinking errors over time, there is a constant theme that is present. This theme I’ve labeled the core thought. This core thought is the foundation of how we make sense of much of the world. Or, to put it more actually, it is the story that we use to first interpret a situation. And the less information we have about what is happening in real time, the more likely we are to base our assessment on the core thought. As integral as this pattern of thinking is in our life, it is very difficult to recognize the core. Two analogies might help explain why it is difficult to recognize. For those who wear glasses, you “forget” that you wear them. Another example is driving yourself home, you don’t “think” about the directions/streets to take, you simply drive. And after you’ve moved, you have to “think” about getting home so you don’t automatically drive to the old residence.

Too often it is this core thought that drives our behavior. As an example, the core thought is “I don’t fit in,” I will do a lot of things to fit in. I might look for ways that I don’t fit in as a way to justify my behaviors. For example, I might not say “no” so I’m not rejected. I might use so I fit in. Or, if something happens such as being rejected, we conclude this as another example of how we don’t fit in. We are always looking for the perfect situation where I will never have to worry about fitting in. We do things to either make it come true, or prevent it from coming true, or in reaction to the fear that it might be true.

Identifying the core thought.

There is no easy way to identify the core thought directly. I typically try to “vector” in and help the client identify the core thought. This is done by approaching the thought from a number of directions. None of them appear to make the process easy, but it is helpful. I’d recommend that you simply list the thoughts that come to mind without trying to analyze them too much at this point.

1. One approach is to review the topic on thinking errors. Which thinking errors stand outs out as having the most intense reaction relative to the other thinking errors? It might be in agreement with the thinking error where you say “I say this a lot.” Or in reaction to that thinking error “That is NOT me…no way.” Of any of the thinking error examples that elicit a reaction, think about why the reaction occurred.

2. Another approach is to look at an incident where you acted out, as you complete a behavioral analysis track the thoughts backward. I like to use an example of dominos. The current thought is based on a preceding thought just like the current domino falling is triggered by the previous domino all the way back to the initial domino. That initial thought might be the core thought.

3. What triggers the strongest anger reaction? Before you “explode,” what is the internal conversation or thought you are having? What is the assumption of what you think the other person said, or your assumption of what happened? As referenced in the power of thinking, the core thought is so automatic that it is difficult to recognize.

4. A fourth approach is to have a few friends who you trust give you feedback. Ask them to answer the following questions. When something happens in y life that I don’t like, what do you see is my first response? When I talk to you for support, what appears to be the pattern of my struggles? What do you see as the issue that I get the most angry about?

5. Look back over times in your life when things didn’t go the way you wanted. It could be “big things,” such as losing a job or getting called into the boss’ office, etc. What is your thought as you first heard about the results? It could also be small things that can help you see the core thought, such as plans with a friend falling through. What do you say to yourself in that internal conversation to make sense of the situation?

6. When you look at the list of thoughts, restate them in a simple way. I encourage my clients to say the thought as a six or seven year old might say the thought.

These are simply six ways that may be helpful in identifying the core thought. It is important to emphasize that we are looking for a “thought” and not a feeling. If you identify a feeling in the process, ask yourself “Why do you feel that? What is the thought that creates that feeling?” Too often people will say my core thought is that “I am bad” or “I’m not good enough.” My response is to ask “why” do you feel that. If this process works, great. If it doesn’t that is OK. It is simply a tool. You might be able to identify the core thought later on as you start to look at incidents as they occur in real time.

Some sample core thoughts

  • It’s my fault
  • I can’t do it.
  • It doesn’t matter.
  • Why try
  • This won’t work
  • You can make me
  • I can do what I want
  • I don’t fit in
  • Nobody wants me

As difficult as to identify the core thought, the reward for identifying/recognizing the core thought is amazing. Consider the reality that you can’t break a bad habit if you don’t know you’re doing a bad habit. In golf, for example, coaches are often helping you “unlearn” bad habits that you picked up along the way. So it is with the core thought. It is a habitual way of thinking. When recognized, new opportunities are possible. Part of freedom is to not to do what I want, but to choose the direction I want to go. As you recognize how present the core thought is, you can make a different choice toward something else that is more important. This will be covered in the future under “goal” theory and “purpose.”

No comments:

Post a Comment