An acquaintance of mine constantly complains about her neighborhood. “Whenever I take my daily walk,” she says, “I pass the same depressing sights: the old, dirty car always sitting in the same spot, the unpainted, warped wooden fence that’s falling over, the yard with 2 big dead trees, trash containers that haven’t been taken in from the street, the row of empty beer cans lined up alongside a vacant house.” Now, I happen to know that her neighborhood is considered one of the most desirable in Los Angeles, with spectacular views and high-priced homes. Yet she’s focused on a few sore spots--day after day after day.
My friend’s grumblings are a classic example of the “cognitive distortion” called the “mental filter” by David Burns in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Burns generated a substantial list of irrational bad-feeling thoughts that we repeatedly (and likely unconsciously) reinforce in ourselves. This one is called the “mental filter” because we exclude (filter out) all the positive elements of a given situation or relationship and notice only the negative ones. In the moments after someone says something hurtful to us, we often decide that the person always hurts us (does nothing but hurt us) and fail to recall all the times he or she has been kind, thoughtful, and loving.
We feel crummy whenever we practice this distortion (and all the others cited by Burns). Noticing the positives in any situation has us feeling much better. I gave my friend a kind suggestion: On her next walk, make a mental list of all the attractive, well-kept homes and yards and notice the pleasant expressions on the faces of the many dog-walkers she passes along the way. If she actually does the experiment, I’m sure her thoughts will be about how lucky she is to live where she does.
You're reading the Bad Thoughts Blog, which maintains that feeling good is as simple as thinking a better thought. I'm Debbie Covino, hypnotherapist, coach, speaker, author, and creator of the All Day Hypnosis© series, available at www.hypnotic-wellbeing.com
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