Blog : anxiety

Why Do I Keep Making Bad Decisions?

Why Do I Keep Making Bad Decisions?

Decision Making and Cognitive Distortions

Often we know what the right decision is. We know that we need to eat well, sleep more, exercise regularly, work on our relationships, work on ourselves, but for some reason we sometimes just don’t do it.

This is a paradox. We often know the answer, and commonly continue to make the wrong choice. Why do we do it? One explanation is that we employ what are called Cognitive Distortions.

For one reason or another, our mind works out a way of being comfortable with making an unhealthy decision. At my Ann Arbor counseling practice, I work with clients to identify, understand, challenge, and restructure these common cognitive distortions:

Emotional Reasoning

We believe that our emotional reaction proves something is true

Our brain experiences a civil war. On the top of the brain we have our Human Brain, or Cerebral Cortex. This is what makes us distinctly human. It is driven by our Frontal Lobes and is responsible for complex thought, logic, reasoning, creativity, and much more.

In the center and at the core, we have our Animal Brain. This part of our brain is older and is responsible for our animalistic instincts, fight or flight, and our emotional center (Limbic System). We owe our survival to our Animal Brain, so we often trust it deeply. The human part of our brain and the animal part of our brain are in tension. They are battling for ownership of our decision making. Both are involved in all of our decisions, however the extent to which they are involved varies.

When we experience a strong emotion it can transcend our logic. When we feel something strongly, it can keep us in our emotional center and prevent us from fully utilizing our Frontal Lobes. In therapy at my Ann Arbor counseling practice, I work with clients to become more aware of this and to challenge it.

Magnification and Minimization

We emphasize our failures and de-emphasize our successes

Sometimes we make a mountain out of a molehill. We can convince ourselves that something is a bigger deal than it really is. When we magnify the significance of a concern we can often prevent ourselves from making the healthy decision that we want to make. This commonly leads to anxiety.

Other times we can downplay the true significance of an emotion or concern. There could be a real tangible reason that is preventing you from making a healthy decision, and it is important to identify it. Minimizing is a step away from denial.

Splitting

We think of ourselves in terms of all-or-nothing

It is easier to think in terms of black or white. We either are a person who exercises regularly or we aren’t. We either are a great friend or we aren’t. We either eat well or we don’t. We are someone who processes our emotions or we are someone who hides from them. The list could go on.

The reality is that we can be, and often are, more than one thing at the same time – even if they are two characteristics that seem contradictory. When we go to funerals we often like to sum someone’s life up in a nice, clean, neat way. But the reality is that humans hold the capacity for the complexity of internal contradiction, and it is unrealistic to believe that we can be all “good” or all “bad.”

Thinking in terms of all-or-nothing is a common cognitive distortion that prevents us from making the choices we want to make.

Overgeneralization

We assume future outcomes based on a few experiences

Making sweeping generalizations is a human thing. Most of us do it in some way. We have a negative experience, and believe that all future experiences will yield a similar result. This type of thinking can prevent us from making decisions that we want to make.

In therapy we can learn to recognize when we overgeneralize, how it may be negatively impacting our functioning, and how we can go about challenging this habit.

Magical Thinking

We believe that if we’ve thought about doing something, we’ve already sort of done it

For example, say we have to grade papers this weekend. We continue bringing it up and mentioning it to our partner. I can’t do anything until I grade these papers, or, “When I grade these papers I’m going to attach rubrics with their score summarized,” or, “I’m so stressed because I have to grade these papers.”

A funny thing starts to happen when we continue to think about something we have to do. It can create the cognitive illusion that we have made some sort of actual progress. We believe that because we have continued to think about it, we are working on it. Magical Thinking is another way that we deceive ourselves with our thoughts.

Restructuring our Cognitive Distortions

The first step in addressing our cognitive distortions is to become aware of them. In therapy at my Ann Arbor counseling practice, I work with clients to identify how their thoughts may be actually preventing them from making the choices that they want to make.

Identify – Understand – Challenge – Reconstruct

Once we are aware of our cognitive distortions it is important to identify specifically how they are impacting our functioning and where they come from. Once we build a deeper understanding of the cognitive distortions, we must challenge them. We will work on a plan to restructure our cognitive distortions to attempt to modify how we think and feel about ourselves in several ways. This often feels like breaking a bad habit and requires practice + time.

If you or someone you know connects with the maladaptive thought processes outlined in this post, feel free to reach out to ask questions or schedule an appointment with me. I’d love to work with you on building a healthier and more fulfilling life!

 

About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at his Ann Arbor counseling practice, Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC. Tim works with clients to help identify, understand, challenge, and restructure cognitive distortions. In addition to being a counselor in Ann Arbor, Tim is also an adjunct instructor at Jackson College where he teaches Intro to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Intro to Counseling.

 

 

How to cope with anxiety

How to cope with anxiety

What is anxiety?

On some level, anxiety is a good thing. Anxiety has allowed humans to survive this long. Our body has a natural alarm system which lets us know if something is going wrong or if something doesn’t feel right. If there is a real threat present, anxiety enters in order to prepare your body for fight or flight. Think of how your body would respond if you were walking alone in the woods and encountered a grizzly bear…

In a certain sense, anxiety is a gift.

But sometimes, our body’s alarm system goes off at all the wrong times. Our body tells us, “You can’t sleep right now, you have to worry about what is going to happen tomorrow,” or, “Just think about how the world is going to come crashing down when people find out about who I really am,” or even, “How could you work right now when this is going on inside?”

Anxiety can overtake us.

It can prevent us from sleeping, from working, and can really start to take a toll on our relationships. Anxiety will try to convince us that we have serious health conditions, that we aren’t capable of handling this. Anxiety seems to flow through the fabric of our being.

Anxiety can be paralyzing.

It can prevent us from doing the simplest of tasks. Maybe you had one thing that you really wanted to get done today, but somehow before you knew it, it was 2AM and you felt like you hadn’t done anything.

Anxiety can trick us.

It can make us believe that all threats will happen, or it can make things seem threatening that truly pose no real threat. Anxiety tells us, “Don’t put yourself out there, it’s not worth it.” Anxiety tricks us into living a life filled with a false sense of protection.

How can therapy help me deal with anxiety?

We will begin by diving into the question of, “What is this anxiety doing FOR you?” Your body responds in certain ways for a reason. Maybe it’s our intuition that is telling us that something feels off. If so, there is a reason why our intuition is communicating with us. There is a reason why our body works the way that it works. It thinks that it is protecting us, but in reality it is sometimes hurting us.

tree_picThe process of discovering the various answers to this question will lead us on a deep exploration into the fabric of your soul. What makes you, you? What drives you? How have relationships in your life played into the person you are today, and how have they influenced how your body communicates to you?

The journey of therapy is a process of listening to yourself.

In therapy, we learn to listen to our body, to listen to what it is communicating, and to dive into why it is telling us what it is telling us. Your life is a narrative. The story has a plot, major themes, and major characters. Coming to understand all of these things is important in the journey of doing the “inner work.” Through self-discovery, we can begin to understand this anxiety from the perspective of your life. It has a role, but it does not have to be the star in the plot.

IdentityAnnArbor.com

img_2327About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC. Tim is passionate about working with people to help them better manage their anxiety. Tim is also an Adjunct Faculty member at Jackson College.