Friday, March 13, 2009

Emotional fasting

We are now in the Lenten season. This is when Jesus went into the wilderness, fasted for 40 days, and resisted temptations. Many Christians have emulated this and give up chocolate and the like during this time. Most of the other religious traditions also have times of fasting. Many find this a meaningful spiritual. Regardless of whether you are Christian or an athesist, consider a fast in this season.

Rather than giving up chocolate (or in addition to it), consider working on giving up negative and catastrophizing thoughts. If your intent is to emulate Jesus (or Mohammed, Buddha, etc.), letting go of negativity will be much more spiritually cleansing than forgoing chocolate.

How would one do this? The first step is to become more aware of your automatic thoughts. Catch yourself saying things like, “Why even try. It won't work anyway!” or “What if everyone laughs at my efforts?” These automatic thoughts will generally fall into one or more of the following categories:

1.All/None thinking “It's perfect or it is crap!”
2.Overgeneralization “Nothing EVER works out!”
3.Mental filter You focus ONLY on problems and ignore the 99% of when there are no problems.
4.Discounting the positive Someone offers you a compliment and you deny it.
5.Jumping to conclusions “I KNOW that things won't work!”
6.Magnification and minimization “I mess up EVERYTHING.”
7.Emotional reasoning “I FEEL the test will show cancer, therefore, I HAVE cancer.”
8.Should statements “They SHOULD be competent if they work here!”
9.Labeling “I'm a loser.”
10.Blame Instead of problem solving, you blame yourself or others.

Once you identify that you frequently use any of the categories, begin to monitor yourself for those type of thoughts. For example, monitor yourself for “What if” thoughts, should worry be a problem. Don't be concerned that there is often overlap between the categories. Two good books that elaborate on this approach are Feeling Good and the Feeling Good Handbook, both by David Burns.

Best wishes,
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