From the Docs


“So much in life depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference.” — Author unknown

Each one of us has our typical pattern of thinking. Some of us may focus on the negative qualities of situations or people, while others may focus on the positive qualities. No matter what your thinking pattern looks like, the following is true: our thinking impacts our emotional state and our behavior. Our thoughts are always valid (i.e., they hold meaning for us), but not necessarily always an accurate representation of a particular situation. For example, has there been a situation where you interpreted what was being communicated differently than someone else? Or perhaps you feel anxious in a particular situation while others around you are seemingly unaffected. Much of how we feel and interact with our environment is shaped by our thoughts that are connected with a particular situation. These thoughts can come from our own interpretation of what is going on, our past experiences or our ideas of what that particular situation should be like.

Oftentimes, if we find ourselves stuck in a pattern of uncomfortable emotions, such as anger, depression or anxiety, it is likely that our thinking pattern is distorted in some way. Learning to recognize our own errors in thinking can increase our ability to improve our mood and behaviors. Let’s look at the following example:

Triggering event: A co-worker gives you attitude.

• Thought: “He/she is disrespecting me.”
• Emotions: anger, frustration, irritability
• Behaviors: Avoid contact with the co-worker; talk negatively about him/her to other people; give attitude back to the co-worker, which causes conflict at work.

In this example, we interpret the co-worker’s “attitude” toward us as a personal attack. This interpretation leads us to feel angry, irritable and frustrated at work. As a result, we give “attitude” back, which causes problems at work. We talk negatively about the co-worker to others. We avoid contact with the co-worker as much as possible.

Now let’s change our thought in response to that situation and see what happens:

Triggering event: A co-worker gives you attitude.

• Thought: “It’s not personal. He/she is like that with everybody.”
• Emotions: Still a little irritated, but not as intense. Empathy — maybe that co-worker is stressed out or has other things going on in his/her personal life.
• Behavior: Your workday is no longer ruined by having to be around this co-worker. After all, it’s not personal.

The situation (triggering event) did not change, but you modified the way you thought about it, which positively impacted your overall emotional and behavioral responses.

Another tool to modify your thinking is to take a thought and tell yourself, “That’s one option … what are other options.” Just by considering other options, you modify your interpretation of a situation and can successfully decrease negative emotional and behavioral consequences.

These tools are simple, but not easy. Practice builds proficiency. If you find yourself frustrated, stressed, depressed or anxious most of the time, take a look at your thought patterns in response to daily events. It may be helpful to keep a log of your thoughts that are connected with a triggering event. Then take a look at these thoughts and see if you can modify them to create a more balanced perspective to improve your overall mood and behavioral functioning. You can also run your thoughts by trusted and supportive friends or colleagues. Do they think about the situation the same as you do? Maybe they have an additional perspective to help balance your thinking.

If you would like to learn more about thinking errors and how to correct them, feel free to contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule a confidential appointment.