Thoughts Guide Behavior: Common Unhelpful Thinking Styles that Influence Your Habits
Last updated: March 2022
A sound and positive headspace is a game-changer for practicing the healthy behaviors involved in diabetes control. What we think guides our behaviors. So, if you are not thinking in a helpful way that promotes reaching your goals, you will likely stumble now and then.
Mental health and type 2 diabetes: Understand your thinking
Here I will lay out some of the more common types of unhelpful thinking patterns that I see in my work with people with diabetes, along with some scenarios of how they come into play. Notice if you find yourself practicing any of these or if someone you know does. Constant unhelpful and negative thinking styles by people in your immediate environment, such as spouse or coworker, can impact your style of thinking too.
Irrational thinking patterns
Irrational thinking is when you have a thought that simply doesn’t make sense or is not true but, without noticing, you totally bypass logic and accept this one thought bubble as true. The consequence of this can be big. Here is one example:
Client: “By planning meals, I’m letting diabetes win...the victory over it is eating what I want.”
Me: “Is it though? Is that true?”
Client: “Well, no. Plus, I pay for it later… I end up on a blood sugar roller coaster, which leaves me feeling mentally and physically exhausted.”
There are actually several thoughts to unpack in this scenario: 1. The idea that you are in a battle against diabetes. 2. Intentional steps to control eating habits is how you lose the battle to diabetes. 3. Careless, anything goes eating is how you win the battle.
Though some of these things may be the way you feel sometimes, that doesn’t make them true. And, by slowing down to question these, we learned that they are all not true. In fact, we find that believing these and practicing the behaviors that these thoughts suggest creates a losing battle with yourself.
Negative fortune telling
Negative fortune-telling is when you anticipate an outcome before something even happens. The statement, “I’m just going to blow it later anyway, I may as well just skip the gym tonight” is a common example of negative fortune-telling.
In this thinking, you are completely eliminating your ability to do something about the behavior or the outcome; you are robbing yourself of your own power to control what you do and what will happen.
All-or-nothing thinking patterns
Perhaps one of the most common of the unhelpful thinking styles, and most prevalent in the area of health-related behaviors, is all-or-nothing thinking. This style has very rigid guidelines, and usually labels things as good or bad, success or failure. “Diets” set you up for this thinking. It also happens often surrounding blood sugar readings or HbA1c results.
Where “all” means that you follow or fit inside the guidelines perfectly, “nothing” is complete abandonment and zero flexibility. So, the moment you step outside of “all” it becomes a failure. Once the failure mentality kicks in, the “why not” thinking shows up.
Here is a scenario:
Tammy has done well with improving eating habits lately but forgot to have an afternoon snack and gave in to a sweet treat while at her book club. The cookie tray was right there in front of her and it took no thought to simply reach out for another. Before she knew it, Tammy had eaten another two cookies, and she immediately became aware that she had not just indulged but overdone it. She felt terrible about herself and abandoned her previous plan of cooking a healthy dinner to order a pizza instead. Tammy later indulged in late-night snacking while watching TV too, because “why not?” She felt that she had already failed anyway.
As you can see all-or-nothing thinking can easily cause a runaway train. Some people struggle with a similar scenario that is fueled by this thinking on a regular, even daily basis, where starting over tomorrow or next week is the alternative.
Tackle unhelpful thinking styles
If you struggle with any of these thinking patterns:
- Aim to recognize them when they are happening.
- Actually question if the thoughts are true.
- Even though it may be challenging, try to force yourself to see a more positive or realistic solution. With time, your thoughts will naturally start to move towards this more positive and realistic direction. Ideally, this will become your dominant thinking style.
- Practice flexibility and be compassionate with yourself.
- Work towards becoming okay with a “slip” or not being “perfect.”
- Try to shrug it off when things don’t go as planned.
- Remember that perfection is impossible.
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