Blog : Tim Wilkins

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.

 

 

3 Steps to Finding Greater Meaning in Life

3 Steps to Finding Greater Meaning in Life

What is meaning?

What am I truly passionate about?

What continues to get me up every morning, when I could just continue sleeping?

According to Irvin D. Yalom, “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” The struggle to discover meaning in the context of life is a human struggle.

I often have people come to therapy and say some version of the following; “When I was younger, I was told that things like art were important. I was told to express myself; that it was important and valued. I had things I was working toward. But as I age, I feel like the rug is slowly being pulled out from under me.”

Step 1: Orientation – Examine where you came from

When we grow up, we are told a lot of different things. We are given a set of boundaries. Begin by exploring the following questions:

  • What were you told to believe?
  • What were you told mattered the most?
  • What were you told was completely off limits?

We have an original Orientation. We are told to never, ever, touch the stove. The stove is hot and dangerous. If we touch the stove, our hand will get burnt. We are taught which things should be meaningful, which topics are important to care about, and especially which things we must avoid at all cost. Never touch the stove.

Step 2: Disorientation – Challenge what you have been told

As we continue to grow, the things that we have been told may

slowly start to breakdown. Our perceptions of these boundaries start to change as we engage with a harsh world. We begin to realize that the stove is not always hot. Sometimes the stove is cool, even cool enough to touch. When we come to this realization, we often begin to engage in a season of Disorientation.

The season of disorientation forces us to ask several hard questions:

  • Who am I, really?
  • What are my true values?
  • Has what happened to me shaped my identity?
  • What are my genuine passions?
  • Do my experiences make me who I am?

In the season of Disorientation, we learn more about ourselves. We think about the things that we have been told to think, do, and believe, and identify ways in which our original orientation may not sit well with us anymore. The stove isn’t always hot, and sometimes it needs to be cleaned.

Step 3: Reorientation – Identify what truly matters to you & give it to others

Many people feel that the experiences themselves are what shape us. However, as we transcend the difficult season of Disorientation, we engage in a third stage, a season of Reorientation. In this season, we learn that our responses to our experiences shape the person that we become.

  • How can I help others with what I believe?
  • What do I want my work in the world to be?
  • Why do I continue to wake up in the morning?

As the universe expands, so does the human psyche. The process of evolving into newer and more expansive beliefs, missions, and states of consciousness can be uncomfortable, especially when those closest to you aren’t going through the same transformation.

In therapy, I work with people through the rhythmic life cycle of Orientation, Disorientation and Reorientation. When we realize that the stove is not always hot, we are bound to get hurt at some point. I work with people to help them discover their inner self. Our inner self is our true self, our source of strength, and unfortunately the part of our self that we are often least in tune with.

As a counselor, my role is to set the table for you to journey through the difficult struggle of inner-self-discovery. It is through difficult introspective inner-self-discovery that we come to understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be me.

If you are interested in engaging the therapeutic process of finding more meaning in life or if you have any questions, contact Tim.

IdentityAnnArbor.com

About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC. Tim’s counseling focus areas are anxiety, motivation, and identity issues. Tim is also an adjunct instructor at Jackson College where he teaches Intro to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Intro to Counseling.

 

 

 

3 Ways to Reduce Stress Using Mindfulness

It’s another day at work, and you get one of those emails.

You know… one of those emails.IMG_2340.JPG

Maybe the email is from a coworker or from one of your bosses. Either way, it’s the email that you get about once per day, and it makes your blood boil. The thing they’re emailing about is last on your list of things to do, but the email is still enough to keep you in a constant state of stress and anxiety.

The WEIRD (Western-Educated-Industrialized-Rich-Democratic) culture that we live in continues to demand more and more of us. Living in this fast paced world can be extremely damaging to our health, and can leave us feeling disconnected from the earth and from each other. Stress has been shown to lead to significant health and relationship issues.

What would it be like to live a life free of chronic stress, fatigue, and energy depletion? How could I live a life fully connected to earth and focused on the moment?

It may sound like something you can never attain. This may be true; however, there are a few simple habits that can be integrated into your daily life fairly easily which have been shown to have a dramatic impact on stress and anxiety.

The techniques that I am about to explain are rooted in a practice called Mindfulness. This term may seem like the new “hip” buzzword, but it is rooted in an ancient tradition of practicing intentional living. I’ll start by explaining what Mindfulness is NOT.

Mindfulness is not a method of escape. Unlike other meditative techniques which may attempt to clear your mind completely and escape life, Mindfulness is an active process of becoming more aware of yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness stresses (no pun intended) the importance of the moment.

Because all we have are moments to live. 

Since all we have are moments, Mindfulness allows us to more fully live them one by one. Here are a few helpful techniques to get you started (derived from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training):

1.) 3 Minute Mindful Breathing 

Set your clock for 3 minutes. Sit in a chair with excellent posture. Close your eyes, and begin breathing in for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then slowly breathe out for 8 seconds.

In for 4, hold for 4, slowly breathe out for 8.

Continue this rhythm, and begin to notice your thoughts. You may have a thought that brings anxiety (maybe it’s the email you received earlier). In this case, instead of rejecting the thought, you are going to let it in. Let your mind experience the thought, and note the emotional experience that you encounter. It is important to not judge this. This is an intentional practice in non-judgment.

Let the thought in, notice how it makes you feel, and simply return to your breath.

Imagine this rhythm as if you’re driving down an empty highway early in the morning. Your thoughts are like the road signs that pass by. They come in, you experience their impact on your mind, and you return to the road. Continue for 3 minutes and when you’re done take note of your current state.

2.) Mindful Appreciation 

Wherever you find yourself, begin to think about 5 things that you are appreciative of. Try to focus on things that typically go unnoticed, such as the electricity powering the air conditioning in your office, or the infrastructure which provides water to your faucet. Spend a few minutes intentionally practicing gratitude for 5 things that you may take for granted most of the time.

3.) Mindful Body Scan

Lie on your back and close your eyes. Begin Mindful Breathing (see technique #1). Once you find a good rhythm of breath, begin to imagine a scanner moving up through your body. The scanner starts at tips of your toes, and is monitoring how each square inch of your body feels. Begin to move this virtual scanner up through your left foot, passing you ankle, your shin, your knee, until you hit your pelvic bone. Next, jump down to the tip of your right foot, and begin to move up toward where you left off before.

Continue this scanning method all the way through your body until you reach the top of your brain- all the while noting how each square inch of your body feels. Notice if any areas feel particularly good or bad. Once you reach the top of your head, imagine a hole in the top of your head releasing the energy that the scanner has put into your body. Take note of your current state, and compare it to how you felt prior to doing the body scan.

Practice these 3 techniques once per day for a week, and observe whether you feel or think differently.

Are you interested in engaging in counseling to help you live more mindfully? Do you have questions? Contact Tim.

About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC. Tim’s counseling focus areas are anxiety, motivation, and identity issues. Tim is also an adjunct instructor at Jackson College where he teaches Intro to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Intro to Counseling.

 

 

7 Areas to Practice Self-Care

7 Areas to Practice Self-Care

Self-Care

Self-care is a critical component for living a healthy life full of joy and fulfillment. Unfortunately, we often feel like we are just too busy to be mindful of all parts of ourselves. Practicing self-care is practicing self-love. I’ve found that living intentionally in the following 7 areas will often lead us to living a life that we love and to loving the person that we are.

Physical Self-Care

How am I caring for my physical body?

We all know it. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will make us feel better. But for some reason we still don’t do it. It’s as if the intellectual center of our brain (our cerebral cortex, orchestrated by our frontal lobes) is in a dramatic battle with our emotional center (our limbic system). Both of these parts of the brain think that they are helping us, but the tension that they create is often enough to keep us stagnant. Learning to manage this internal tension can help free us from the blocks within our own body.

It’s also important to keep in mind that physical self-care is not just about diet and exercise. It is also about being mindful of anything that interacts with or touches our body. Any toxin, any chemical, any person…

Emotional Self-Care

How am I allowing space to process my feelings?

Sometimes we just try to power through it. Often we think that putting something on a shelf for a while, so that we don’t have to deal with it now, will be helpful.

This is a trick.

Our mind will trick us into believing that it is healthier to avoid harsh realities in life. Interestingly, sometimes it seems to work! We can temporarily free ourselves from dealing with complex feelings by simply distracting ourselves (think Netflix, video games, or whatever we use to “check out”). However, a funny thing starts to happen- the feeling starts to come out in ways that we didn’t expect. Maybe you lash out at your partner, or you get overly angry during a meeting. It will eventually come out, it’s just a matter of how it comes out. Living more intentionally and finding someone like a therapist or counselor to work with regularly can help us to live more intentionally and learn to process our emotions in a healthy way.

Intellectual Self-Care

How am I continuing to challenge my mind intellectually and creatively?

Depending on your day job, many of us can walk through a lot of life mindlessly and uninspired. After doing the same thing for a long time, our tasks move from our conscious (where we have to think about it and process the pros and cons of decisions) to our unconscious (where it becomes a habitual mindless activity). Caring for our intellectual self keeps our mind fresh and our life inspired. What is something creative that you used to love to do but just don’t have time for anymore? Do it today! Process how you feel before and after doing it.

Relational Self-Care

How am I cultivating my closest relationships?

In life, we have 3 sets of friendships: Primary relationships, Secondary relationships, and Tertiary relationships. Primary relationships are those that are closest to us. These are the people who truly know us. If I asked one of these people about you, they would be able to tell me a bit about your insecurities, the things that you care most about, and some of the most impactful things that you have been through. Most of us only have a few primary relationships, and it is important to cultivate them. As we age, it becomes harder and harder to maintain relationships. But these are the people who we know are worth keeping in our lives. Relational self-care is an active process. If we aren’t intentional about cultivating these relationships, they will inevitably fade.

Social Self-Care

How am I spending time with community (outside of my immediate family/circle)?

But what about those Secondary and Tertiary relationships? Secondary relationships are the people in our lives who we spend time with regularly. They’re our friends, we go out on the weekends with them, we enjoy each spending time with them, but maybe they’re not quite as close as our Primary relationships. Tertiary relationships are those on the periphery. These are our Facebook friends that we don’t see often but still enjoy keeping in touch with.

Social self-care is all about the extent to which we feel connected and invested in a community (beyond our closest friends and family). When we feel connected and engaged, we feel like we have more meaning and purpose in life. This brings us to the next area of self-care…

Spiritual Self-Care

How am I managing the ongoing search for purpose and meaning?

I’m not talking about religion. Religion can be part of this, but that’s not my focus here. I’m referring to our internal sense of self and what we bring to the world. Do I feel like I am connected with the deepest parts of myself? Am I aware of how I’m living, feeling, and being in the present moment? What do I want to contribute to the world? Our Spiritual self is the part of ourself that asks the deepest questions. Maybe I’ve been hiding from who I truly am for too long…

Suffering Self-Care

What methods am I using to cope with suffering?

As we journey through life, we all suffer. Suffering is a part of living and an important part of growing. We all may suffer in different ways, and it is important to find healthy mechanisms for coping with suffering. Though suffering is often unavoidable, we can work to employ mindful coping methods that help us emerge from the suffering a more hopeful and aware human. We may walk through life with a limp, but we are still walking and we’re going to carry on.

IdentityAnnArbor.com

Are you interested in beginning therapy? Do you have questions? Contact Tim

About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC. Tim’s counseling focus areas are anxiety, motivation, and identity issues. Tim is also an adjunct instructor at Jackson College where he teaches Intro to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Intro to Counseling.