Changing How You Think Can Change How You Feel

In cognitive therapy, the belief is that altering your thoughts will change the way you feel. After all, for better or worse it’s a person’s thoughts that govern the way they perceive the world. Hot thoughts are classed as instant negative reactions to perceived threats or problems. Understanding them can be key to overcoming troubling thoughts that accompany depression, anxiety and anger.

Irrational But Powerful

The brain is designed to react to dramatic events quickly. If you spot a lion among the bushes, your brain doesn’t delay in telling you that there’s danger so you can get straight out of there. Yet, sometimes hot thoughts are counterproductive. It’s common for those suffering from social anxiety to react strongly to perceived setbacks. For example, you may say the wrong thing and feel instantly ashamed. The reality is that these thoughts are often over-emphasized. Many people feel regret over things they said years ago which, in reality, everyone else has probably forgotten about.  

You may even understand that these thoughts are irrational, but are unable to control them. Over time, hot thoughts can feed into a pattern that becomes a cycle. This cycle can be difficult to break. Your thought patterns keep reinforcing the belief that you’re a failure, or can never be successful or happy. Identifying these thoughts when they strike is the first step to rationalizing them.  

Analysis and Rationalization 

If you often find yourself reacting in an overly negative way to events, whether it causes you to be angry, depressed or anxious, try to look at the reasoning behind your thoughts. There may be a range of beliefs involved that build a negative picture, but what’s the root of your negativity? Perhaps if you find yourself jealous of a co-worker it makes you feel that you’re no good in comparison. This can lead to feelings of low self-esteem. In fact, it may be that your co-worker simply projects an image that hides other problems in their lives, and they’re not as perfect as you think. In any case, comparison with another person in this way is usually counterproductive.

These thoughts can sometimes lead to externalization of frustration, sadness or anger. Perhaps you think, “They’re such a jerk” every time they make people laugh. You could become unwilling to take part in group activities or social events when they’re near. You may even be pushed to outbursts. You can’t hold in your feelings and make it clear you don’t like that person when, in reality, they’ve done nothing wrong.  

Ask questions that force you to be objective about the situation. What would a third person say if they were observing the cause and effect of your negative thoughts? Imagine someone looking at it like a judge: Is there any hard evidence that the other person is better than you? Could they have their own issues, just like everyone else? Is it helpful for you to think these thoughts, and is there a more rational way to approach the situation?

Understanding hot thoughts is important in identifying where you may be overly-reactive to negative situations. It’s natural to become sad, frightened or angry sometimes, but it’s not always fully justified or helpful. The next time you feel a negative response to something, analyze whether someone else looking at the situation would agree with your reaction. If so, you can decide how to deal with it, but if not, you can feel more positive and move on.