This is the second installment  about Maggie, a team leader in a government department who has been struggling with negative thoughts and the impact this has been having on her work, her life and her interactions with others. You can read the first part of her story here.

Maggie the team leader was determined to change her negative thinking that led to her loss of happiness but she didn’t really know what part of her thinking contributed to her unhappiness.

Alex Korg in The Upward Spiral Workbook offers six ways to identify unhelpful thinking.

1) Black and White Thinking: You see things as totally good or totally bad. You will be a lot happier if you see that there are nuances to everything.

2) Unrealistic Expectations: Things take time, you are not perfect and neither is anyone else. Unrealistic expectations are a great way to make sure that everything in life makes you unhappy.

3) Selective Attention: If you are always looking for the negative, you will find it. Most of happiness is perspective. Check your self-talk about increasing your happiness “Oh my god, this is too much to do!” Or you can say, “Wow, there are so many ways for me to increase my happiness!” Same facts, different perspective. And they produce very different feelings.

4) Disqualifying the Positive: If you are always in problem-solving mode and focus only on what is broken you won’t be very happy. Appreciate the good things in life as well. Emma Goldman, (1869 – 1940) a social activist said “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution”. Have fun.

5) Predicting the Future: This will never work” or “They’re going to think I’m stupid.” You don’t know the future. So don’t act like you do.

6) “Should” thoughts: Consider banning the word “should” from your vocabulary. “But she should…” It’s usually just an insistence that the world bend to your will and is a great way to amplify frustration.

Personal instruction for the day: I will stop should-ing on myself!

And next time negative thoughts hijack your brain, challenge them. Don’t beat yourself up. Just play a game of catching yourself in the act, label the thought for what it is, and then consider more helpful ways to look at the problem. This is an absurdly powerful habit to get into.