Brenda Bernstein shares her top tips for identifying and replacing your “stinking thinking”
I was introduced to the concept of “Stinking Thinking” (ST), first coined by Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950s, through the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential. As you might guess, stinking thinking is the stream of negative thoughts that runs through pretty much every human being’s head as they go through life. During this challenging time in the world, there is a lot of stinking thinking flying around. And now, more than ever, positive thoughts and a positive attitude are essential to moving forward.
How to Identify Stinking Thinking
Here are some categories of stinking thinking, along with an example of each:
Overgeneralization: No one is following social distancing guidelines!
All or Nothing: If I can’t go to the gym, I give up on my physical fitness.
Magnification: I’ll never find a job ever again!
Can’t/Won’t: I can’t survive this!
Always/Never: You always argue with everything.
Jumping to Conclusions: I got furloughed, so I must be a bad employee.
Mind Reading: She hates me. I know it.
Fortune Telling: If I tell my husband the truth, [insert conclusion here].
Projection: You are so disrespectful.
Prejudice: It’s his fault because he is [insert race, class, etc.].
Dismissing the Positives: 10 good things happened, but it’s the one bad thing that counts.
Magical Thinking: I am healthy, so I don’t have to wear a mask.
Helpless/Hopeless: No matter what I do it won’t make a difference.
Emotional Reasoning: I feel bad, so I must be bad.
Should Statements: I should have cleaned the house more frequently.
Blame and Shame: This whole pandemic is [insert culprit’s] fault.
Looped Thinking/Obsession/Perseveration: I shouldn’t have done that. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t have done that.
Do any of these sound familiar? I know I’ve been a perfect example of a lot of these categories, as have many of us – not just during this pandemic, but on any day of the week. This might be a depressing thought for some (watch your stinking thinking about stinking thinking!) but there are upsides too.
What are the positive sides of stinking thinking?
I’m encouraged that once we acknowledge we all have stinky thoughts, we can feel less alone and judgmental of ourselves when we have them. We can watch out for them in ourselves and others, actually noticing them instead of having them run us entirely. And once we realize we’re engaging in ST, we can come up with more fragrant thinking to replace it.
What if you were to choose thoughts that are more reflective of what is actually happening, outside of the ST in your head? They would likely be humorous, compassionate, or forgiving. For example:
I am adaptable and can still get my needs met.
I feel sad and scared, but that doesn’t mean everything is lost. I can feel joy too.
Just because something went wrong doesn’t mean it’s my fault.
I wonder what he meant by that. I’ll ask him.
This one thing didn’t go well, but so many other things did.
I will keep an open mind.
I can do it.
I feel upset, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.
I am excited to learn from this mistake.
I can see how this will turn out OK.
This second set of possible thoughts leaves a lot more room for possibility, doesn’t it?
Pick one… or two…
Perhaps you’ve noticed some stinking thinking lately? Maybe it’s about the coronavirus in general, our leaders, a relationship, your work or career, your family, or the way someone looked at you when you passed them in the grocery aisle. Notice the thoughts you’re having and notice that those are just thoughts. They are not the truth.
If you identify the category of thought you’re engaged in then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to come up with a new thought to replace the stinky one.
It takes wisdom and vulnerability to move away from stinking thinking, and I’m hoping we can do it. Perhaps that’s magical thinking on my part, but I really do believe that this can all turn out OK.