Should I really be thinking this way? Are my thoughts appropriate and realistic? How do I know if my thoughts are rational?
Most people have asked themselves these types of questions at one point or another to determine if they are reacting appropriately to the stressors and challenges that come up in life. People like to feel in control of their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors, so if someone concludes that his or her thoughts are irrational, that would imply a lack of control, which makes most people feel uneasy.
So, to remain in control and avoid any uneasy feelings, how do you determine if your thoughts are rational or not? You can start by asking yourself this very important question: Have I used logic and reasoning to help dictate my thinking patterns?
It’s very easy to find yourself entering into a vicious cycle of allowing your thoughts to negatively affect your emotions and then your emotions to negatively affect your thoughts, making them even more negative, and so on and so forth. When was the last time you paused and took emotions, expectations and stereotypes out of your thoughts, then applied logic and reasoning to them instead?
To do this, you need to be able to break down various elements of the situation into two categories: “Any and all facts/pieces of evidence that would indicate that my thoughts about this situation could be rational” and “Any and all facts/pieces of evidence that would indicate that my thoughts about this situation could be irrational.” Then, see how many bullet points you have in each category and use that knowledge as a reference tool to help you determine if your thoughts are rational or not. (For this exercise to work properly, you have to be realistic and honest with yourself about the bullet points you put in each category.)
Keep in mind that, like most things in life, it’s not always black or white. You can have a thought that has some rational aspects but also has irrational aspects as well. Often our irrational thoughts started off as rational and/or have at least some rational components to them, but as we allow the vicious cycle to kick in, they quickly turn into worst-case scenario, really disturbing/awful/negative, or just simply irrational, unrealistic and not valid.
Correcting the problem at the source (your thoughts) can help you improve more than just your thinking patterns; actions tend to come from emotions and emotions tend to come from thoughts, therefore if you ensure that your thinking patterns are rational, the rest may follow suit.