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“This is a CATASTROPHE / DISASTER / NIGHTMARE!”
“That makes me so DEPRESSED / ANXIOUS / SAD…”
“I can’t COPE!”
“This is IMPOSSIBLE / I CAN’T do this…”
“I’m so ILL / SICK / KNACKERED / TIRED…”
“This is RIDICULOUS / OUTRAGEOUS!”
“I don’t BELIEVE it…”
“I SHOULD be able to do this…”
Let’s play a game. Over the course of the next few days or weeks, listen out for the above language or phrases (or variations) and see how many of the your friends, family and colleagues actively use versions of them in their daily lives. I bet that it’ll be more than you imagined, a lot more.
Everyday use of language like this is so common, but incredibly unhelpful when it comes to managing mental health. They make every day occurrences, things that are just normal events or minor problems, seem far worse than they actually are.
And, like water seeping into the ground, this slowly infests our mindset and attitudes with negative thoughts, thinking styles, emotions and views of our lives. You will, if you hear it often enough, believe that it really is a disaster, a real living nightmare or a serious illness.
But let’s be honest, when you heard your colleague, parent or friend say something is a “disaster” or a “catastrophe”, it’s usually not. Losing your home to an earthquake, catching ebola or personal bankruptcy would be a big disaster or a nightmare… a bad day at work, catching a cold, forgetting a birthday or spilling a drink is not. They are just part of everyday life – something that everyone experiences around the world, regardless of who they are.
The above phrases and words are examples of a catastrophising or black and white thinking style, which promote a very critical, all-or-nothing view of ourselves and the world. There are 30 or more further thinking styles in this vein – often learnt at an early age from parents, family, colleagues and friends – but adopting most, inevitably, lead to a downturn in our mental health because they make us feel powerless and negatively alter our view of our lives.
You are in control of the language you use!
But, rather than being powerless in this regard, even though someone may feel like this, we have a very real control over the language we use and, thus, a large proportion of what makes up our mental health. Consider the fact that we have roughly 40,000 thoughts a day, and the language we choose to use is a direct expression of these thoughts. The important word here is ‘choose’. We have the choice, when it comes to the language we use, to catastrophise and exaggerate events and occurrences in our life beyond their real impact, just as we have the choice to not do this. It’s all about how you process the events around you.
But, when you change your mindset and language to to be more positive, those 40,000 thoughts begin to change too. Thoughts and beliefs affect our language, and our language affects our thoughts and beliefs. Don’t believe me? Look up Pennebaker and King (1999) or Wolf, Sedway, Bulik and Kordy (2007) – all cited in the The Thrive Programme book. These and many other studies concluded that the language, words and phrases we choose to use and our personality traits and attitudes to life are closely linked.
A very negative person might have 10,000 unhelpful, catastrophising thoughts a day, but when you change your daily use of language (both spoken and the things we silently say to ourselves) to leave no room for the sorts of words and phrases used at the top of this article, those thoughts will start to disappear as well.
So when the language we use is a real, more positive reflection of our everyday life – not a catastrophised or black and white version of it – we can very easily make a big step towards a more thriving attitude to life.
Christmas or any big occasion is a great time to start practicing this because it’s a time of heightened emotion when we’ve all heard a raft of the above phrases used in relation to an unlikeable relative coming to stay, burning the turkey, forgetting to get a gift for someone or finding out that the kid’s toys don’t have batteries included. So, take those phrases at the top of this article and turn them around: I CAN deal with this, this is NOT a nightmare, this is just a SMALL problem, I can OVERCOME this etc.
Teaching this change in attitude is one of the key pillars of The Thrive Programme, and something that, as the research cited above suggests, is a key barometer of how someone is doing in life before, after and during the course. For example, often during a first consultation, we hear very negative phrases like those at the top of the page – the person most likely feels helpless in the face of severe depression, anxiety or similar.
However, as they begin to learn how their mental health is a thing that they create – rather than it happening to them – then their language changes dramatically. They feel in control of their emotions, feelings and mental state and their language reflects this.
You’ll be shocked at how much anxiety, stress and broodiness you and others are causing themselves to experience just by allowing negative phrasing and thoughts. But, you’ll also be surprised at how much more enjoyable Christmas, and life in general, can be if you adopt more positive language around your experiences – it really is up to you…
It’s one of the most important concepts for anyone interested in mental health and wellness to understand, yet it’s one of the least discussed: Locus Of Control.
Summed up, locus of control describes how an individual views the world in two broad categories: internal and external. Let’s discuss each category and why they’re so important when it comes to mental health.
First, someone with an internal locus of control views themselves as being in control of their life and mental health, but also accepting that certain things are out of their control (and subsequently not wasting time or energy brooding about these things).
They will process life events as being due to their actions – if a relationship is going well, for example, someone with an internal LOC will read this as being down to their efforts and being a good partner. They put the effort in to the relationship and they’re rewarded with a positive outcome.
The same could apply for lots of situations that we find ourselves in life; doing well at work, sporting achievement, academic performance, maintaining good mental health and finding a partner.
Someone with an internal LOC will look at success in these areas as being down to them, and not due to external factors such as luck, someone taking pity on them or someone else letting them succeed.
Most of the time, we’re not referring to winning Wimbledon or a Noble Prize when it comes to achievement – one of the keys to good mental health is to recognise your daily ‘wins’ no matter how small.
So going to the gym or being a solid member of your team at work would all be things that someone with an internal LOC recognises as being a positive result of their effort, skill and personality. In turn, processing events such as these in a positive fashion will add to an individual’s self-esteem, confidence and positive view of themselves, and life in general. These are all important foundations for good mental health.
By contrast, a person with an external locus of control views the situations and life events mentioned above in subtly different way; they will perceive them as happening to them. They will think that they have little control over these events; they might think that finding a partner or job – or overcoming depression – is down to luck, for example.
They may have a spiritual or fatalistic view of the world that instructs them to view events as outside of their control; getting that job you always wanted is a gift from their deity or is just pure luck, for example. That’s not to say that having spiritual beliefs is incompatible with developing an internal LOC, but some beliefs promote the idea that life events are outside of our control, when actually the opposite is usually the case.
The problem with having an external locus of control is this: if you believe events and things that happen to you are out of your control, then you will do little to change them. You won’t put in effort to seek out treatment for anxiety that really works, or you won’t put maximum effort into meeting a partner or new friends that make you feel fulfilled and happy.
People with an external LOC often feel stuck with their lot in life; things have happened to them and that’s just the way it is. Hard luck, fate, god’s will, bad karma. S***t happens and that’s just the way it is. This is a deeply unhelpful view for anyone struggling with their mental health.
As Rob Kelly describes so well in his main The Thrive Programme book, people with an internal LOC will almost always find it easier to deal with mental health issues, and overcome hurdles in life.
For example, an episode of potential situational depression – losing your job because the company went bust due to sales of widgets collapsing (rather than your poor performance) – would be far more easily overcome by someone with an internal LOC.
They would process the event as being outside of their control, and recognise that the company failing doesn’t change the skills, thought, talent and hard work they put in to being good at their job in the first place. They would view it as an opportunity to find a new, even better job and put lots of effort into doing so.
Someone with an external LOC would take this event to be a reflection of their own skills and consequently brood, analyse and catastrophize the company’s failings as their own. They would let this event dramatically impact on their mental health and view of themselves as a valuable employee and good co-worker. It’s fairly obvious what mental health issues this would cause.
Yes, LOC is partly about perspective – another key factor in good mental health – but it goes much deeper than that. Developing an internal LOC is about believing in your ability to be fit, healthy, happy and productive without the help or permission of others. It means that you will do everything in your power to overcome hurdles in life – or learn the tools to do so – because you feel powerful and in control of events.
In The Thrive Programme, this concept is also taught in the form of SPACE – Sense of Power And Control over Experiences – and Locus of Control feeds into the concept of SPACE. Your sense of power and control over your mental health is a direct result of your Locus of Control.
If you’d like to know more about developing great mental health and an internal Locus of Control, why not contact your local Thrive Consultant for a free first consultation or buy a copy of Rob Kelly’s book?