Broaden Your Thinking

Realistically assessing your thoughts can help you expand your awareness, improve your outlook, and find new possibilities and explanations for situations and new opportunities in your life. Just how do you go about that?

Last blog I used the acronym NARROWED to describe limited ways of thinking. Now I’d like to use another acronym, BROADEN, to describe ways to expand your outlook.

BALANCE your thoughts. If you’re focusing on the negative, stop and try to find positive things in the situation. If the coleslaw was bad, did it really ruin the picnic? Was the weather pretty, did you enjoy playing frisbee? If you are are angry with someone and ruminating over their negative qualities or their hurtful behaviors, think about their good qualities or the nice things they’ve done.

REALITY CHECK. Think you know what someone else is thinking? You might want to check it out with them. Sometimes, if you are unsure that you see a situation clearly, you may want to ask a trusted friend for their perspective.

Be OBJECTIVE. Instead of using all-or-nothing thinking or using harsh words for a situation, try to quantify a situation. Instead of calling your project a failure, think in terms of percentages: Perhaps it was 80%. Instead of declaring your relationship a “disaster area,” state that, “We have argued 5 of the last 7 nights.”

Think of ALTERNATIVES. If a coworker didn’t speak to you when you passed in the hall, is it really because they are angry with you or could there be another reason (like they are heavily involved in a difficult project and are distracted with that)? If you are predicting a negative outcome, tell yourself another story about it going well. Neither may be true but you’ll feel better when you tell a good story.

DISPUTE your negative thoughts. Ask yourself, what is the evidence that supports my negative thoughts, then ask yourself what is the evidence that disputes them?

EDUCATE yourself. Are you making assumptions based on incomplete information? Not really sure about a situation (like an illness) but fearing the outcome? Go get some education. You just may learn that outcomes may be manageable, that there are known ways to handle a problem. At the very least, you’ll likely learn you’re not alone in having the experience.

And, above all, be NICE to yourself. We’re all on a journey and we learn along the way. We stumble, we fall, we have pain, we are human and we make mistkes. Harsh self-talk does not help; it makes us feel worse and make us less effective. Try being as understanding and kindly toward yourself as you would your best friend. You just may be surprised how much easier coping and managing will be.