FAMILY MATTERS: Positive tips to get rid of awful stinking thinking

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FOR many of us, the new year is the time when we start thinking about making big changes in our lives, either taking on new challenges or giving up bad habits.

However, many New Year’s resolutions seem doomed to failure because many of us let negative thoughts and attitudes undermine our brave new ideas of moving forward, and then those defeatist ideas become a disappointing reality.

Sheffield life coach Lisa Read, who works with parents and with young people, calls this ‘stinking thinking’. Here she outlines 10 examples and some ways to overcome it. “Remember, the first step to making positive changes is to be aware of what’s currently going on!

All Or Nothing Thinking

This is when we think in black and white, for example a teacher having a bad lesson and saying ‘I’m useless at teaching, I ALWAYS get on badly with that class’ or a dieter eating a small chocolate bar and then quitting their diet because they’ve ‘ruined any chance of success’.


A single negative event becomes disaster of the century. Missing out on a promotion and declaring it the ‘worst day of your life’; or being rejected and dwelling on this as a ‘sign’ that things aren’t working out for you are both examples of over generalising.

Mental filter

Similar to over-generalising, this is when a single negative detail becomes the entire focus, the positives forgotten. Imagine doing a presentation, starting really well and then making a mistake somewhere in the middle. When we mentally filter we focus repeatedly on the mistake, forgetting that 90% of the presentation went well.

Discounting the positives

Refusing to accept compliments or recommendations because they must be wrong; believing that because we dwell on our negative features others must also.

Jumping to conclusions

We jump to conclusions in two main ways: mind-reading and predicting. Mind-reading is deciding (without even asking) what another person is thinking (‘she thinks I look a mess’ or ‘he wasn’t impressed with that’) Predicting is when we make a decision that a future outcome is likely to be disastrous in some way. (‘It’s bound to go badly’)


Shortcomings become massive, positive attributes very small, with magnification. Often people dwell on the things they don’t like about themselves and this can become a sore point if they’re ever mentioned. Body and facial features are often ‘magnified’ to be awful in some way, when in fact they’re part of what make us unique.

Emotional reasoning

Assuming that your negative emotions reflect what’s ‘real’, eg I feel upset so she must have hated me. Negative emotions can seem to have more power because the unpleasant feelings and thoughts often last a lot longer than pleasant ones.

Having a fantastic time with our friends isn’t usually replayed in our minds as much as being told we’ve got something horribly wrong.

‘Should’ or ‘ought’ statements

Telling ourselves that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be can add negative stress.

We can also expect ourselves to be perfect; thinking things like, ‘I should never think bad things about people’, I ‘should’ be beautiful at all times, I should be more organised. Ought is just another version of this.

When we say we ‘ought’ to call someone, or write that article or get that assignment done, what we really mean is ‘I don’t want to, but I think I should’.


This is an extreme form of all or nothing thinking in which something going wrong is then given a personal label, usually starting with I am.

For example, I am lazy, stupid, uncoordinated, annoying etc.

Personalisation and blame

Personalisation is when we take on the responsibility for a negative event even though it wasn’t anything to do with us.

For example, a family member being hurt or getting into trouble when we weren’t able to do anything about it; when personalising an outcome we blame ourselves.

Blame is the opposite of this; it’s suggesting that a negative outcome is all somebody else’s fault. ‘If X hadn’t have said that then I wouldn’t have done it’ is a typical blaming response. So what do we do about it? Read on to discover some strategies…

Awareness: Become aware of what is happening, what we’re aware of we can change. Make a note of the ones you repeatedly do, for example I used to mind read a lot but don’t do this so much now.

I still tend to think in ‘all or nothing’ terms when I feel unwell. The slightest ache sets me wondering if I’ve got a terminal disease! I have to remind myself that all I’m doing is a bit of stinking thinking.

In reality…: This is a great strategy which grounds us and helps us to recognise how our thinking isn’t helpful.

Begin with the negative thoughts (e.g. I’m feeling terrible, I must be really ill, perhaps it’s something serious – it’s got to happen to someone, why not me?)

Then say, In reality… and complete the truth of the situation. (e.g. In reality, I don’t feel quite as bad as I made out, I’ve only got a cold and I have been incredibly busy lately which is probably why I feel a bit tired.

In reality, people do get ill and it could be me, but it is unlikely so all I need to do is focus on getting well. In reality, if I’m very concerned I can go to a doctor.)

Do you get the idea? Try it out with your own thoughts!

Replace negative thoughts with positive ones: Try thinking about a really happy memory whilst also imagining that there’s a disaster looming in your near future – it’s not easy to think about opposing emotions at the same time.

One of them will win out, so choose the one you’d like to win! I prefer to focus on success and gratitude, using affirmations to help me (e.g. ‘I am truly rich, I have abundant money, love and health, I’m growing richer every day’ is one of mine).

Give out niceness: The more positive and kind we are to others, for example giving out compliments and thankfulness, the better we tend to feel.

Give the negatives an outlet: If I’m feeling negative, rather than telling myself I ‘should’ be positive, I write it all down – every last little negative bit of it.

I use scrap paper and write fast, getting all my thoughts down on paper. This allows me to see my thoughts for what they are, a drain on my energy.

I’m then able to think about what I intend to do about it; this instantly helps me to feel better. I finish by doing what I can about the situation and shredding the scrap paper!

Finally, remember that we’re not perfect people and we’re not always going to think in the most effective way. What we can do is start on a journey towards happier and more successful thinking, and regularly revisit this sheet to remind ourselves of the impact our thinking can have.” Lisa’s website is at