It must be hard-rubbish collection time around here.
Out walking the dog yesterday, we passed many piles of junk sitting on the nature strip; boxes, broken chairs and side-tables, worn out electricals, and couches, lots of couches!
In my city the local council designates dates for hard-rubbish collection and households take advantage of the free removal by getting rid their worn out, broken down, now useless large pieces of junk.
It reminded me that in China there is a tradition of cleaning the house from top to bottom before New Year’s (known as Spring Festival), which occurs roughly mid-January to mid-February. This is to sweep away any remaining bad luck and to be ready to welcome in good fortune for the coming year.
After a thorough clean, brooms and dust pans are carefully stored so that the newly arriving good luck cannot be swept away.
Some people refresh their homes, doors and window-frames a new coat of red paint and decorate them with red paper cut-outs of Chinese auspicious phrases.
Purchasing new clothing and shoes, and having a new hair cut also symbolize a new start.
It’s amazing how small changes can really lift our mood. Arranging fresh flowers in a nice vase can change the entire atmosphere of a room. Wearing a bright scarf or a pretty beaded necklace can make us feel special. Clearing a small area, such as table or bench-top, in the midst of the chaos of a cluttered room can do wonders for how we feel when we enter that space.
In fact, the Chinese tradition of feng shui allows an easier flow of energy around the home. I’m not sure about energy, but I certainly feel a lot better when I can move easily around my home without encountering piles of junk! I’m usually more productive at my desk if there are not small objects littered about, distracting me.
It’s the same with our thought patterns.
If you’ve been chronically distressed for some years, you’ve probably developed negative thought patterns; focussing on many of the same things over and over. Old conversations, events, incidents and memories that are of little use to us today. We churn over these thoughts with little progress. Our brains have created neural pathways that have become our default settings.
Negative Thought Pattern 1: Rumination
The tendency to go over the same old negative thought patterns is known as rumination. Rumination is also the term used to describe how cows eat; they chew the grass for a long time to make it digestible. For cows, however, rumination has a purpose.
For us, rumination may feel like it has a purpose (to help us find a solution to some problem we think we are facing) but in fact, there is little that is constructive that comes from rumination. Thinking through a problem and coming up with a solution is known as ‘problem solving’. Rumination is not problem solving. For a more in-depth look at rumination, click here.
In fact, rumination can maintain depression, so it’s a good idea to stop that habit.
Let’s put rumination on the nature strip with the worn out electrical goods.
You can keep track of your rumination with a stop watch. Yes, set an alarm to ring after each 60 minutes. When the alarm goes off, stop and reflect on your thoughts. If you were actively engaged in something and not ruminating, great!
If you were ruminating, what were you doing at the time of rumination? It often occurs when we are doing something which requires our attention. Note what might have triggered the rumination and plan for if that situation arises again. For example, if you were ruminating while waiting for the kettle to boil, make sure you are doing something next time you make a cup of tea, like wiping the benches or emptying the dishwasher.
What other negative thought patterns to let go of for the New Year?
Negative Thought Pattern 2: Judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others?
This is another nasty thought pattern that depression helps to maintain.
We tend to believe the nasty lies we tell ourselves about ourselves.
‘You’re not good enough, you’re unlovable, you’re stupid, you’re too fat/too old/too ugly, you don’t deserve better’, we whisper constantly to ourselves.
These thoughts are lies and need to be thrown out with the torn and dusty curtains and the ancient computer and that old filing cabinet nobody can close properly.
We need to find ways to counter them.
One good way is to engage our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, which can be less active in depression and do a little detective work on ourselves.
Find the evidence!
Think about your day. List everything you did today or yesterday. Every activity from making coffee to doing the shopping to going to work to visiting your Mum.
Now, think about what those activities say about you.
For example, ‘I took old Mrs Jones’ groceries inside for her’. What does that say about you? ‘I’m helpful, friendly and a good neighbour’.
Another example, ‘I gave the dog his dinner’. What does that say about you? ‘I’m a responsible dog owner who cares about animals’.
This might seem faintly ridiculous, but if we’ve been belittling ourselves and the things we do for so long that you have to put on your detective hat or scientist’s lab coat and find the evidence that proves you are not the kind of person you believe.
Negative Thought Pattern 2: Mind-reading
When I say ‘mind-reading’, I’m not talking about a magic trick or a superhuman ability. I’m referring to a social skill that we use all the time to show we empathise with another human being.
‘Mind-reading’ helps us know when a joke has gone too far, when that fine line between gentle teasing and bullying has been crossed, when the level of competitiveness has risen or whether someone has laughed at our humorous comment because he found it funny or is just being polite. We pick up cues from our own experiences and memories, our ability to reason and our own emotional life.
For example, you note your friend is acting a bit down today. You remember she is going through a hard time a work. You assume that her mood is related to that situation and so you ask her how things are going at work, because you want to be sympathetic and offer her support.
When our emotions are dysregulated, our ability to pick up on social cues is distorted by the negative thought patterns we have developed.
Suddenly, your friend is not ‘down’; she’s upset and what’s more, she’s upset with you! You know this because she is always happy and upbeat with you. What have you done to make her upset with you today? In fact, she’s not just unhappy, she’s downright angry with you!
Can you see what’s happening? Our negative thought patterns make us believe that other people’s moods are all about us, that we can see into their internal mental landscape and interpret it.
We cannot possibly know what other people are thinking and feeling and it is only our depression which tells us that 1/ they are thinking about us 2/ they are thinking badly of us.
Really, what we see are our own negative thought patterns about ourselves projected onto others.
Let’s put out mind-reading with the jammed up paint tins and rusty old garden tools.
As with rumination and negative thoughts about ourselves, the first step in stopping mind-reading is to be aware of when it’s happening. Being mindful of what the person is actually saying to you and their body language will help you get out of your own head. Focus on their words and body language. Listen actively. Ask questions. Confirm what they are saying. Offer sympathy.
Our low mood can infect our thinking with many different negative thought patterns.
We’ve touched on the broken-record of rumination, toxic lies about our self-worth and the problems with mind-reading.
I think that’s enough for one post!
Clear out these negative thought patterns with mindfulness. Be aware of when these thoughts arise, thank them for dropping by and then deliberately let them go.
Just like with that old couch you bought years ago. It’s done its job but now it’s stained, dirty and torn. It’s time to let it go!
…and I think the sales are on…so maybe you could treat yourself to a new one???
De-clutter your mind and decide to live more joyously in 2017.
Happy New Year everyone!
What negative thought patterns are you putting out in the rubbish this year? Would you like to share them? Please leave a comment below. Thanks!