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Stop Saying These Two Phrases, You’ll Improve Your Life

Jan 30, 2023

A great deal of helpful research has been done on cognitive distortions. Most cognitive experts agree that our brains sometimes automatically reach conclusions about things based on some habit or perception rather than accurately relating to what is really going on. Though it seems to us that we are thinking of factual reality, the truth is much more complex. Our thinking is colored by our primary relationships, experiences, our past, our development, the amount of stress we are under, and many other factors.

For example, suppose you are a woman having dinner with a man you are dating. In the evening, his wallet opens accidentally, spilling a photo of a very attractive woman. When you see the picture you might think, He has a relationship already, and he hasn't said anything about it. I am history with this guy. But seconds later he picks up the photo and says, – This is my sister, I'd like you to meet her sometime. Relieved, you congratulate yourself for not speaking every single thought that passes through your mind.

When we take distorted thinking to the next level, to the level of important life goals, we begin to see how much it can affect whether you get what you want out of life. The very way people think can render them powerless and helpless, and lead them to blame others.

For example, sometimes people see themselves and their abilities in such a way that they feel they could never succeed. Others look at their options as severely limited. And others listen to their minds telling them that if they take a small risk, their world will fall apart. You really can't overstate the importance of your thinking patterns. Nor can you overstate how dramatically helpful it can be to learn to think differently. That is why thinking is one of your eight keys to empowerment and life change.

Let's look at two major ways that the mind distorts reality in the areas that affect empowerment and life ownership. As you read over these common statements, think about times you may have used them yourself, and consider what it may have cost you.

Distorted Thinking Statement No. 1: I've Tried Everything and Nothing Helps.

When facing an unreached goal, a relational opportunity, or a life problem that needs to be resolved, a person will often express some form of I've tried everything and nothing helps. That is to say, he believes he has tried everything, and there are no solutions, in his mind, he has exhausted all the possibilities for making changes, achieving dreams, and making improvements, and now he must resign himself to the reality that there is no hope for betterment. Nothing helps.

It is true that there are those times in which nothing does help, at least in the sense that you can't undo the past. When a person you love dies, he is gone. When you get fired, you are not likely to get the job back. When your husband says critical things to you, they can't be unsaid. No device has yet been invented that can rewind what has happened and replay it by a different script. Dealing with the inevitability of the past is more a matter of knowing how to grieve and adapt.

But the distorted thinking that leads one to think everything possible has been done and the situation is hopeless is another matter. The person with this mentality believes he has nothing left but to accept a bad situation with no hope of change. That is a discouraging and disempowering thinking pattern, and it keeps people stuck and hopeless.

I can’t count how many times a caller on our radio show has said, – I've tried everything to solve this problem, and nothing helps. She may be referring to a troubled marriage, a problem child, or a weight issue. The problems vary widely, but this distorted-thinking response to them is all too common. When I hear this distortion, I generally respond with two questions.

What is everything? More often than not, the caller will rattle off a pretty short list that doesn't even begin to exhaust the possible approaches to a solution. Say you have a husband with an anger problem. What have you done? Let's list some of the options. You could:

– Talk to him.
– Let him know specifically how his anger affects you.
– Ask him what he thinks is the problem.
– Invite him to tell you what he thinks might be your contribution.
– Change what you need to change, in his terms, not yours.
– Clarify your own distortions about appropriate and inappropriate anger.
– Tell him what specifics you want changed.
– Tell him not just what you don't want, but what you want.
– Work on increasing trust and attachment between yourselves as a couple.
– Pray together as a couple about the matter.
– Look at Bible passages that teach about anger
– Help him learn about grief and sadness as an antidote to rage.
– Bring others into the picture to help.
– Go to a support group.
– Go to counseling.
– Warn of the consequences.
– Set limits.
– Set stricter limits when he escalates.
– Give affirmation when he is more self-controlled.

The list could go on. The point is this: if you find yourself saving you have tried everything possible, it's a good thing to question whether you really have.

Distorted Thinking Statement No. 2: I Can’t

I can't thinking is the opposite of can do thinking. It is literally can't do thinking. In this mentality, people feel unable to make any move to better their situation or reach their goal. They feel profoundly helpless. I can't thinking simply shuts the door to opportunities, hope, and change. There is no resource; nothing can be done and nothing can be different.

Now, certainly there are some can't in the world. Most of us can't become NBA players, or Harvard professors, or Jack Welches. But the number of people endowed to achieve these goals is a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage of the population. There are a lot more cans than can'ts out there, but somehow for some people the can'ts seem to carry the day.

Here are some of the I can'ts that take over their thinking:

– Lose the weight.
– Get a better career going.
– Get my husband to listen to me.
– Confront my boss on this problem.
– Find the right person to date.
– Go back to school and retrain myself.
– Get my kids to mind.

If you have had these or similar thoughts, You are not alone. We all do from time to time. But when those thoughts become a pattern, it's time to see it as a problem.

Actually, there is a certain relief in I can't thinking. When people give up on a dream or on changing a problem situation, they feel they can stop beating their head against a tree. No longer must they keep making attempt after attempt. They give up, change directions and change their focus and expectations.

This is well and good if you weigh 130 pounds and want to play in the NFL. It is probably wise that you changed your direction. But all too often the goal you walk away from may have been achievable, which means the relief of I can't is offset by settling for much less than you need to.

For example, a businessman friend of mine got involved in church a few years ago. He really loved God and wanted to grow in his faith. However, he had not grown up in the church. You may be aware of this, but sometimes churches unfortunately have their own – religious language, with certain phrases and words, which has the result of keeping people feeling alienated rather than included.

My friend wanted to help out and serve, but he felt like he was at the bottom of the class because he didn't know – church language. He told me, – I like coming to church and learning, but I can't really help out. I don't know the right words.

I said, – I see it differently. When you say you can't help out, I think it may be more that you don't know how.

– What do you mean?

– Well, you feel like an outsider, and I think that's not your fault, it's the church's. The church needs to know how to relate to the world, not the converse. Would you be interested in helping the outreach to the community? I think you have a lot to offer as to helping us connect with everyone.

My friend thought about it and agreed to meet with the outreach ministry at the church. He felt unqualified and had a lot of I can't thoughts, but he stepped up anyway. It was a great fit. He helped the church to learn what it is that unchurched people which is most of the world feel, think, and need. The I can't attitude never returned.

Where does I can't thinking come from? Often, people have had experiences in which they learned to fear risk and failure. Perhaps they tried a new sport or a class and failed miserably. Or perhaps they had significant relationships in which people close to them were critical and unaccepting of their failure. Sometimes these people simply learn that life is easier when you don't try, because when you avoid risk you don't hurt so much.

But I can't doesn't have to be part of your vocabulary. Failure can be your friend, because it's a great teacher. In fact, those people who succeed the most fail the most. The research backs this up time and time again.

The Bible teaches the same thing about I can't thinking when it speaks about practicing those things which lead us to maturity: – But solid food for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14 NASB). Practicing means trying and failing, and practicing brings training to us. Practice is one of the antidotes to – I can't.

I can't is usually distorted thinking because it simply does not reflect reality. You can overcome the distortion by substituting reality phrases for I can't in your personal vocabulary. Here are a few that are usually more accurate than I can't.

I am avoiding difficulty: Trying to get that raise will be a lot of work; but it's more than I know to say whether I can or I can't before I try.

I am afraid: I fear that if I ask my friends to set me up with a date, they'll think I'm desperate.

I am not sure: I can't tell what will happen when I tell my wife I'm not happy with our sex life, and it's hard for me to say things when I'm not sure about the outcome.

I won't: The catchall. I realize I really could start taking night courses for an MBA, but I just won't do it right now.

There is hope in all of these phrases, certainly a lot more than utterly hopeless – I can't! If you label your excuses honestly, you can learn to face difficulties you are avoiding; your fears can be comforted and you can be reassured; a lack of sureness can turn confidence; and even your refusal to make a move still implies that you have a choice. Whereas I can't takes the choice out of your hands. So pay attention to your vocabulary and banish I can't thinking (except maybe for your hope of playing in the NBA).

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