It is important to realise the difference between our thoughts and feelings. This might sound straightforward, but many people get confused by this. It is common to talk about our thoughts and feelings as though they are part of the same experience. For example, you have probably heard people say things like “I feel like I’m going to fail the test”, but they are probably thinking “I’ll fail the test” and feeling anxious. It is important to learn to separate our thoughts from our feelings.
Feelings are not thoughts. Feelings can often be described in a single word, for example: angry, anxious, sad, depressed, ashamed, guilty, happy, frustrated, jealous, and so on. Thoughts, on the other hand, are often more detailed. To help you uncover your thoughts, you can ask yourself a number of prompting questions. As you dig deeper, you may uncover more thoughts that are related to, but different from, your initial thought.
For example, you might ask yourself:
- What was I thinking when the event happened?
- What is running through my mind?
- What is my mind telling me to do?
- What am I assuming about myself, the situation, or other people?
- What am I predicting will happen? What is so bad about that?
It is important to be specific as you try to identify your unhelpful thoughts. Avoid judging your thoughts or labelling them as ‘bad’, ‘stupid’, and so on. Remember, our minds create all kinds of wacky and wonderful thoughts, so don’t worry if they sound ‘silly’. Simply learning how to notice your unhelpful automatic thoughts is key for learning how to overcome perfectionism.
Some examples of unhelpful automatic thoughts are:
- “I don’t want to take the test incase I’ll fail”
- “If I can’t give my best, I shouldn’t try at all”
- “They’ll think I’m stupid and weak”
Take a moment to think about any thoughts you commonly have in response to certain situations, people or internal experiences. Would you classify these as unhelpful, neutral or helpful thoughts?