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How to recognise and interrupt unhelpful thinking.

Much of my journey first through therapy, then coaching has been about awareness- what I am doing, who I am being and crucially what I am thinking. It’s where I spend the most time with my clients because it is through awareness that we start to see the choices; without awareness we are convinced there is only one path, one solution, one option, or worse: no path, no solution, no option. It paralyses us from moving.

Believing in negative thoughts is the single greatest obstruction to success. Charles F. Glassman

Let’s explore some of the ways we sabotage ourselves and what to do about it:


I’m a pro at this one, my brain has the capability of zooming forward decades, often a whole lifetime to play out the worst possible outcome to a decision that needs to be made today. It always looks the same regardless – I’m old, I’m lonely and I’m sad. It’s a deeply unhelpful place to go, the future hasn’t happened and as such we have no accurate way of making these assumptions. Catastrophising assumes that life happens to us, as opposed to us having the ability to steer, and it precludes the possibility of us changing our minds or adjusting our course, which is utter nonsense – these are open to us all the time.

Interruption Tip: keep testing your thoughts – is this a story/a thought, or is this fact? How can I find out? The mantra here is thoughts are not facts, so don’t believe everything you think.

Making it about me

Here comes our judgey inner critic, which we all have. Fault needs to be assigned in this place and 9 times out of 10 we place the fault at our own door. So, something hasn’t worked out as we’d hoped, perhaps we missed a target at work or an evening with friends fell a bit flat; where does your brain go? If “it’s my fault” is familiar, or “I’m a numpty” (I kept it clean!), or “everybody hates me” then you are making it about you. There will be times when responsibility does sit with you for something going wrong, but there is a vast difference between taking responsibility and accepting a mistake and blaming and being over critical of yourself.

Interruption Tip: Practicing using different language: “that didn’t go as I wanted. I’m disappointed. I can try again”, or “I’m not perfect, I tried my best and I can learn more”.

Binary thinking

If there is black on the left and white on the right what’s in the middle?

When we are in binary, we are blind to the multitude of options in between – and they are always there. It can be immensely destructive; if I am not perfect, I have failed. If I can’t do x, then I can’t do anything. And it leads to the over generalising that we slip into so easily – everything is crap, nothing great ever happens to me. For me this one rears its head when I am feeling stressed or anxious, which is ironic because it is precisely at these times that I need to see options more easily.

And in answer to the initial question – who said grey? Me for one! Here’s a different option… if it’s not black and it’s not white, then we have every other colour in the rainbow to choose from. Who knew?

Interruption Tip: Make one side of your room option A and the opposite side option B. Stand in A, then take one step across the room- name any alternative option. ANY. It can be totally ridiculous in your eyes, but name it! Take another step – name another option. Yes, there is one! Do it again… you get the idea. It doesn’t matter what the options are – this is retraining your brain to see alternatives.

You can do it on paper if the movement aspect brings you out in hives – although know that there is immense impact from doing this work on our feet.

Ignoring the good

We can be so dismissive of our achievements and successes. It’s especially prevalent in the perfectionist and people pleaser crowds. So practiced at zeroing in on the parts that failed, but deeply uncomfortable when forced to examine and acknowledge the successes. I often hear “oh that was nothing… I had nothing to do with that… it doesn’t count”.

Interruption Tip: A slight variation of my favourite daily gratitude (I wrote a whole blog on this). Everyday state 3 things that you have succeeded at/ achieved. It’s doubly powerful if you can do it with a friend – no squirming about and being bashful – just matter of fact, 3 things you’ve nailed… and if today the best is that is you got yourself showered dressed and to work like a real grown up – yep that totally counts!

It is not always possible to do away with negative thinking, but with persistence and practice, one can gain mastery over them so that they do not take the upper hand. Stephen Richards

Most of us have spent a long time, often most of our lives, practicing the way that we think; we have formed pretty epic habits. But habits, although tough to change, can be changed, and I love the fact that this is the case because it gives us that powerful thing called hope - that we can think and feel differently.

If you are curious about how I can work with you , you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial 30 minute coaching session with me here and there's no hassling from me if it's a no thanks after that.

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