Do you ever feel down in the dumps?
Last week, I wrote a post called What Road Rage Taught Me About Life, where I discussed unhealthy thinking patterns related to the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Gosh, what is the Fundamental Attribution Error?
Well… go back and read my post! It explains the science behind this powerful principle.
In today’s post, we’re going to discuss how to apply that science. And I have a printable worksheet you can use to work through these principles in your own life. You’re welcome!
You can download the printable at the bottom of this post.
Unhealthy Thought Patterns
For people who struggle with depression or anxiety, when something goes wrong, it’s easy to blame ourselves. We attribute the situation to our own low self-worth, saying things like:
- I’m just not good enough
- I’m not smart enough
- I’ll always be a failure
The problem is, that kind of thinking is self-defeating and doesn’t provide any room for hope or self-development. For example:
- If I’m just not good enough, that must mean I don’t have what it takes to be successful.
- If I’m not smart enough, how will I ever learn the skills I need in order to move forward?
- If I’ll always be a failure, then why even try?
A Healthier Approach
When experiencing a challenging situation, instead of jumping to negative conclusions about our own character or personality, what if we explored the situation more fully and recognized that there are several factors at play, and not all of them are even under our control?
What if we focused more on what we can do, than on how defeated we feel?
I understand that can be a hard step to take…. It’s not easy to stop the train wreck of racing negative thoughts. I know that from experience. But, friend, it’s worth a try!
Getting Out of the Rut
Our thoughts are like wagon wheels that develop deep grooves in the ground. The more we think a certain way, the deeper those grooves become. Over time, it feels impossible to change our thinking patterns. We no longer have to even steer the wagon. It will still follow the path of those grooves.
But, with the help of friends and sheer determination, it is possible to lift the wagon out of those grooves and start it on a new path. It will take time and effort, but it can be done.
About Your Free Printable
In this post, I’ve included a free printable worksheet on the attribution error topic. It can be downloaded below.
This worksheet takes you through five steps in recognizing the attribution error in your personal life and using it to improve your thought patterns. It follows these five steps:
- Internal context: What negative emotions am I feeling?
- External Context: What situation triggered these emotions?
- Internal Attributes: What do these emotions reveal about how I view myself?
- External Attributes: What external (outside of myself) factors contributed to the situation? How can I use that knowledge to shift my thought patterns in a healthier direction?
- Accountability: Who will I invite into the conversation, for an outside perspective, and to hold me accountable in practicing this healthier thought pattern?
For Example, Here is How I’ve Used This Printable
1.) Internal Context: What did I experience emotionally?
Frustration, self-doubt, dread, self-hate
2.) External Context: What situation triggered those negative emotions?
I had to come back early from a two-year mission stint in Peru, but several of my friends were successfully staying long-term on the overseas mission assignments. I was comparing myself to them.
3.) Internal Attributes: What negative thoughts did I believe about myself in the midst of that situation?
I must be a failure. They’re successful, but I just can’t make it. I’m not good enough.
4.) External Attributes: What was a healthier explanation of the situation?
They had significant training for their mission work, whereas I had no training in long-term mission work.
They were participating in a much more like-minded ministry experience, where as I had teamed up with people who did not share all of my beliefs and values. In such a situation, conflict is natural and to be expected. That does not mean there is something inherently wrong with me.
I thought I’d been a failure, but that wasn’t true. I had followed through with what God called me to do. That means it was a success. Some of the other stuff leading to my premature departure was simply due to factors outside of my control, and I cannot penalize myself for that.
5.) Accountability: Who can I call and talk with for support and an outside perspective?
The situation I’m describing above happened several years ago. When this took place, I shared my fears and emotions with a few key friends: Piccola, Janet, and Millie. They helped me walk through the process and provided emotional support as I sought a healthy, constructive perspective on what had happened.
When you struggle with negative thought patterns and low self-esteem, it can be very challenging to treat yourself with compassion.
You would have no problem loving on a friend who’s going through a difficult season, but when you go through the exact same circumstances, you beat yourself up.
C’mon, that’s just not necessary!
You are a beautiful human being, made in the image of God Himself. That doesn’t mean you’re perfect. But it does mean that you have an inherent dignity given to you by God.
Your Healthy-Thinking Homework
Ok! At long last, here it is:
For practice, go ahead and work through one recent situation where you experienced negative self-talk or other unhealthy thought patterns. Practice filling out those answers.
If you need help, feel free to shoot me an email with questions about this printable, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can talk to a trusted friend about the situation, one who loves you and will speak truth over you.
Then I’d encourage you to print out a few copies of this (front and back) and keep these pages somewhere handy.
That way, when you experience a negative situation, you can easily pull out one of these sheets and start processing where your thoughts and emotions are with regards to that situation.
I truly hope this worksheet will help you develop newer, healthier thinking patterns! Remember that it takes time and effort though.
Keep working at it, and don’t give up.
After some time, you might just find that you’ve created new “wagon wheel grooves” along a healthier path.
For Further Reading:
- Our previous post on the Fundamental Attribution Error
- Huffington Post Article on the Importance of Self-Compassion
- Dr. Kristin Neff’s Blog all about self-compassion
- Dr. Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Quiz