Bring personal power and mental health back into your life. Take full control of your monkey mind, especially when it heads off into a fog, mist or bog because worry and anxious thinking has taken over.
Research by Martin Seligman (the bees knees when it comes to research into depression and pessimism) has shown that in order to avoid depression in the long-term, there is a need to change the explanation the mind gives itself about events. As Tim Beck (originator of CBT) observed “The personal paradigm of the patient when he is in a depressed state produces a distorted view of himself and his world.” Both Beck’s and Seligman’s research has shown that a change in perception is very achievable, and that the results of this change meant that it is possible to avoid getting depressed again. The way the mind perceives and interprets experiences, then, predicts who is going to get depressed, who will stay depressed, and who will relapse after therapy. Changing your thinking style from pessimism to optimism relieves depression, and reduces the likelihood of relapse. In fact, the likelihood of an optimist getting depression is slim. Look around, and see if you can find a depressed optimist.
The problem is ‘in here’, not ‘out there’
A person with depression must also be trained to realize that the problem isn’t about what is happening ‘out there’, but rather what is happening in their inner world. [Of course, as often happens, the problem is ‘in here’ because the depressed person is beating up on and turning their anger on themselves, then both the origin of the problem and its solution both lie in inner reality.] William Glasser uses the term ‘external control psychology’ to describe the process most people use of trying to change the behaviours of others, rather than recognizing that feelings are determined by thoughts and perspectives we have chosen to entertain. Research has demonstrated that taking responsibility for one’s own thinking, and learning how to alter it, can be an effective cure for even severe depression.
Being ‘realistic’ is not necessarily helpful
Interestingly, depressed people seem to see life events more realistically than optimists, but optimists, even if their thinking is less linked to observable reality, have a better life and cope with their unrealistic positive perspectives more usefully. When people are depressing, one of the things they do is give up on their dreams. They throw out whatever they had been planning and hoping for, seeing these ideas as unrealistic. However, the dreams are just as valid as they always were. In this state though, it is difficult to evaluate those dreams rationally, and to collect the evidence as to their potential. So while pessimistic thinking may be more realistic than optimistic thinking, it is nonetheless unhelpful when persisted with.
Focusing on the positive possibilities your life could hold is healthier than obsessing about how bad it is right now.
Train yourself to view life and yourself differently
Depressed people, though, can be trained to view themselves and life differently, even when a crisis looms. Of course, this is quite a shift from the problem and feeling avoidance techniques that most people naturally slip into when not feeling good about life. As Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, “Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems.”
There are plenty of stories of people who have risen above their circumstances because of the perspectives they took, and their willingness to look squarely and honestly at how their inner self was coping with a painful situation. Consider the predicament of Victor Frankl who was standing naked, stripped of his clothes, in a cell in a concentration camp when he realized that despite his circumstances, the Nazis had no control over his mind, and that how he chose to think was entirely his own choice. Frankl defined spirituality, as a result of his insight, as ‘the meaning that we attach to the experiences in our lives’. He also noticed that the perspectives taken by his fellow prisoners largely determined how well they coped with prison life, and which ones survived the ordeal.
Take some simple steps to later old habits
The steps that are usually used to target unhelpful thinking include the following.
You don’t have to see a therapist to begin the process of thinking differently, but a well trained professional will certainly increase your chances of success. Those steps, then, are:
i) monitor your automatic thoughts;
ii) recognise that those thoughts then generate other thoughts, emotions, and particular behaviours;
iii) recognise that the negative thoughts produced a low mood, which in turn causes unwanted thinking;
iv) learn to evaluate the distorted thinking you find, and replace this with more realistic and positive thinking, and
v) talk to others about your concerns so that they are not left to prey on your mind,
vi) use problem-solving rather than ruminant thinking to alter or eliminate behaviours that you would prefer to drop.
Try the quiz at the end of this same article posted on http://www.jefferysaunders.com. It will help you assess how depression or anxiety prone your thinking habits tend to be.