The Art of Noticing Thought Patterns
Episode #2 of the course How to become happier: A guide to reprogramming your thinking by John Robin
Welcome to the second day of our course on becoming happier.
Yesterday, we covered the art of positivity, and now you know the two steps involved in it:
Step 1: Notice negative thoughts.
Step 2: Catch a negative thought and reword it so that it’s positive.
This led us to:
Step 3: Collect your inverted negative thoughts and look for patterns.
This, in fact, is what the next level in the art of being happier is all about, and will be the focus of today’s lesson.
The Art of Noticing Thought Patterns
Learning to invert a negative thought to make it positive is only a temporary victory. Without understanding why they show up in the first place, they will keep coming back. Practicing positivity will get tiring.
You are seeking a larger victory: learning to notice the pattern behind your negative thoughts.
To appreciate how to do this, let’s do an example.
Say you spot these negative thoughts in a given day:
• “This person in the line in front of me is so slow. They’re so selfish!” (11 am)
• “This traffic is unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable.” (12:30 pm)
• “This stupid piece of sh*t computer! Why is it taking forever?” (2:30 pm)
What patterns do you notice in these thoughts?
The most obvious to me is that you feel rushed. Looking deeper, I also notice you also have expectations of how your day/life should happen and don’t do well when it goes otherwise. A third pattern is that you have a habit of projecting blame on other people/things.
All of this can be discerned by looking for patterns in these thoughts.
The more negative thoughts you capture, the more patterns you can spot. Writing them down makes it easier for you to assess them objectively.
A good way to do this is to keep a journal. I use a daily journal where I use a few lines of the page to document my struggles, and this tool has helped me notice patterns in thousands of thoughts to date.
Why are these patterns important?
The answer lies in something you might have noticed if you practiced steps 1 and 2 of the art of positivity yesterday.
Let’s say you caught this negative thought:
“This is never going to work, I might as well give up.” (Said when applying for a new job online)
Say you came up with this positive inversion of the thought:
“I’m going to do this. I won’t succeed if I don’t try.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that inverted thought. You are empowering yourself. You are asserting your will, rather than justifying self-defeat.
But how do you know if that’s the right positive thought?
That is where the art of noticing thought patterns comes in.
Let’s say you also recorded several other thoughts yesterday: “I’m never going to get out of this debt!”, “Just kill me already!”, “Will something good happen just once today?”
Because you wrote down these additional thoughts, you can now look for patterns in them all.
Here is what I see:
You struggle with self-confidence. You have negative expectations of the world/life. You carry a lot of self-blame when things don’t go right. You feel overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life.
Conducting this kind of pattern analysis is key to helping you see the “right” way to invert a thought.
Equipped with this knowledge, now make a bullet list of what core needs you have to address in an inverted thought:
• Needs to help me feel more confident.
• Needs to reflect that things going wrong in my life aren’t all my fault.
• Needs to give me some sense of empowerment or hope.
Here is a “better” positive thought, using this awareness of those three core needs:
“This is never going to work, I might as well give up.”
“Applying for this job is very important to me because I’m taking charge of my life. I’m going to do this because I deserve to be happy and this is one step in that direction.”
Pay attention to how you feel when you come up with a new inverted thought. This is going to become important in tomorrow’s lesson, and for the rest of the course.
This art of spotting thought patterns might appear a lot deeper than I’m making it seem in this lesson. That’s because it is. In fact, this art will ripple forward through the remaining eight lessons to come.
For today, your homework is to record as many thoughts as you can and use them to spot patterns. Then, using awareness of these patterns, make a bullet list of core needs, using today’s example above, to craft even better positive thoughts.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll dig deeper into this art of honing the best positive thoughts possible.
An article on 20 common negative thought patterns.
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