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Last Updated on March 2, 2021

This Stress Management training activity workshop slide below can be used as an activity in which you, as the trainer, have an open discussion with the class about each element on the PPT PowerPoint slide.

So let’s now look at 10 unhelpful thinking habits or thinking errors that can lead to unproductive worries.

Unhelpful because they do not help us deal with stress constructively, in fact, they make us feel worse. Habits because these thinking processes, in the long term, become so ingrained in us that they emerge automatically.

  • Show each part of the slide one at a time and allow for an open class discussion on each point.
  • Use the notes below to add to the discussion.

1. Discounting the Positive

This means to reject all the positive things that you have done or that happened. Good things do not count, only bad things do.

For example, you get a promotion at work and, instead of focusing on the positives (i.e., more money or a more interesting job), you start getting stressed about the weight of the new responsibilities you will have.

So, you start thinking that maybe you should have not gone for the promotion at all and your stress levels build up.

Q&A

Ask the students:

  • How could you reframe this situation?
  • Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You can start focusing on the positive aspects of the new position first.

You are realistic, so you acknowledge that with a more senior position come more responsibilities.

However, instead of feeling stressed, you think of ways in which you can plan and deal efficiently with new challenges when they arise.

By doing so, you turn a potential stressor into excitement as you think of ways to meet new challenges and grow personally and professionally.

2. ‘All or Nothing’ Thinking Error

This is also sometimes called black or white, meaning that things are all one way or another without any degrees in between.

For example, you are made redundant and you think that you have no alternatives. You might think that there is nothing else you can do and that it is over for you.

Q&A

How could you reframe this? Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

Being made redundant is certainly a stressful situation. However, you can reframe it and think instead of new opportunities that could open up for you.

For example, you could think:

  • ‘Now I have time to focus on my real passion and plan a career in that sector’
  • ‘There are plenty more opportunities out there and I might find an even better job’
  • ‘The job market is not good at the moment in my sector, but are there any skills I could train in to become more employable and increase my chances of getting a new job?’
  • ‘As I redirect my carreer, is there any support I can get somewhere?’

3. Jumping to conclusions

This refers to making predictions without having evidence. There are two types of this thought process: mind-reading and fortune-telling.

The former means to believe you know what other people are thinking. The latter means to think you know how things you will turn out, usually badly.

So, for example, you think, ‘There is no point in me taking any action as I will not succeed’.

Let’s consider an example in a work context. Your line manager says that s/he wants to talk to you later today.

So, you think, ‘That’s it. I bet s/he is not happy with the new product I designed last week and s/he wants to have a word with me about that’.

So, you feel stressed until the meeting starts and you are in a bad mood by the time you meet your line manager.

Q&A

How could you reframe this reaction? Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You could think that it is too early to draw a conclusion.

There are many reasons why your line manager might want to talk to you. It could even be to praise you.

If you are not sure about the quality of some of the work you did, instead of panicking, try to think of a strategy to improve it. This way, by the time you have a meeting with your line manager, if s/he really is unhappy about your work, you can propose a way forward.

4. Over-Generalizing

This refers to seeing a pattern based on a single event. For example, something bad happens in the morning and you think, ‘That’s it. Today is ruined’ or ‘This is the story of my life’.

In a work-related situation, you might deal with a difficult customer one day and start thinking that all customers are bad and that you hate your job.

Q&A

How could you reframe this situation with the customer? Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You might think instead:

  • This customer had a bad experience, so I empathise with them. My job is to make things better for the customer and I take pride in what I do. Often customers are very nice and show real appreciation for what I do.

5. Catastrophizing

This is also called loss of perspective or magnifying.

So, you blow things out of proportion and a relatively minor disturbance becomes a catastrophe.

For example, you could say:

  • ‘Now I have missed this business opportunity this is the end. I will never get another opportunity as good as this!’.

Q&A

  • How could you reframe this way of thinking?
  • Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You could say instead:

  • There will be new opportunities
  • I just need to look for them
  • or ‘This industry is based on trends and innovations. I need to be on top of any trends, so I can spot new opportunities before my competitors do.

Some useful questions you could ask yourself, when you think that you might be losing perspective, are the following:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • What’s the best that can happen?
  • What is most likely that will happen?

6. Personalizing

This means blaming yourself for something that was not entirely your fault. This attitude is a problem, particularly if you do this frequently.

For example, you fail to make an important sale and you think ‘This is it. I am a terrible salesperson, I never do anything right.’.

Q&A

  • What could you do instead?
  • Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You could say to yourself, ‘I did all I could under the circumstances, but some aspects of the situation were outside my control’; or ‘Becoming a good salesperson is a learning process.

You have to make mistakes to learn. There will be other opportunities and I will do better the next time, based on my experience.

7. Emotional Reasoning

This means assuming that, just because I feel in a certain way, this must be true. This is confusing feelings with facts.

For example, I missed an opportunity and I feel a loser as a result. If I feel like a loser, this means that I must be one.

Q&A

How could you reframe this way of thinking? Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You can think instead, ‘I missed an opportunity once, so I felt like a loser at the time.

This does not mean though that I am a failure as a person. Anybody can make mistakes.

8. Wishful Thinking

This refers to thinking in terms of ‘if only’ and it leads to regrets and being locked into the past.
For example, you are an entrepreneur and you made a bad investment decision.

You then start becoming obsessed with what you could have done instead to make a better investment, but you did not do.

So, you become frustrated and regretful.

Q&A

What could you think instead? Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

Yes, you could consider what you could have done instead that could have led to a better decision.

However, instead of focusing on the past and wishing you could go back in time, you focus on the future and use this experience as a lesson to do better the next time.

So, you learn and move on.

9. Should Statements

This refers to using critical words such as ‘should’ or ‘must’. If we use these expressions on us, the result is that we feel guilty.

We will feel as though we have already failed, and we will be even less likely to do what we are supposed to do. If we apply should statements to other people, we will generate frustration.

Should statements reflect a mindset that thinks in terms of absolute rules, according to which there is an unrealistic standard of perfection that we all need to adhere to. This is why ‘should’ statements can only lead to guilt and disappointment.

Imagine that you are a manager who sets very high and strict levels of performance (unrealistic) and that anything even slightly less than that is unacceptable and leads to disciplinary procedures.

Q&A

  • What would this mind-set cause the manager to feel?
  • And how would their team members feel?
  • Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

As the targets are unrealistic and very strict, the manager will always be disappointed, no matter how good their team members are.

The team members will feel stressed and demotivated. As a result, the company would experience high levels of absenteeism (or presenteeism, which means attending work even when you are sick) and staff turn-over.

Instead, the manager should set a realistic set of goals and expectations and coach the employees to be able to gradually achieve those standards.

If the employees do not meet the standards, before dismissing them, the manager should be flexible, consider their performance over time, see if the employees need support and only use disciplinary procedures as a last resort when everything else failed.

10. Externalizing

This means blaming others for something that was your fault (or at least your responsibility).

For example, you are a marketing manager and you make a wrong decision, so the marketing campaign is not successful.

Instead of taking responsibility, you blame it on your team members for not having followed your instructions correctly.

Q&A

What could you do instead? Is there a more constructive thought process?

[Wait for answers.]

You could:

  • take ownership of your mistake
  • apologize
  • do something to repair the damage
  • think of ways for avoiding the same error in the future (maybe have meetings with your team before launching a new campaign, where you take suggestions and feedback seriously) and move on.
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Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds

Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles & is she is the founder of Symonds Training.

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