Think About Your Thinking

by Allison Lloyds

The transition to adulthood today is a complex, prolonged process.

Many of my 20 and 30-something clients feel a great deal of anxiety when faced with a wide range of opportunities, and find themselves unsure of how to choose between them. Scholars and sociologists note that this generation has grown up as the most affluent generation in American (or world) history, and have exceedingly high expectations for life.
After leaving college and securing their first real job, many young adults find that their mind is wandering.With the excuse of being a “recent graduate” no longer viable, the search for a more permanent career, relationship and place to live begins. “What should I do? Where should I live? Is there anyone else who can relate? What is my passion? Will I ever meet the one for me?”

Many 20 and 30-somethings strive to create a life plan, but experience great doubt and difficulty in executing their plans. Our modern culture gives us many clues about what we should want from life…to be happy, successful and to be loved by those around us. However, life does not come with an instruction manual showing us how to attain these things. The world at the present time is very different from that of our parents and grandparents. As our options have expanded, our contentment and sense of well being seems to, in many ways, have contracted.
I work with my clients to help them learn how to make things work for them in a way that satisfies them, as opposed to feeling frustrated and misdirected.

Many of my clients feel that since they have not been an “instant success” right out of the gate, they are doomed. They frequently measure themselves against others and against their own expectations of where they think they should be. With the belief that enough never seems to really be enough, many of my clients constantly scrutinize every aspect of their lives, leading them to harshly judge themselves. It is important to take a step back and decide if this type of toxic thinking is getting in your way. Take a moment to review and respond to the questions below:

1. When you carefully look at your life in the present, do you often think of different ways in which you feel things could be better?
2. It is hard for you to let go of something when it does not live up to your prior expectations?
3. When you finish something at work, do you often immediately think you could have done it better?
4. Do you feel like a failure based on the fact that you have not yet achieved your goals at this time in your life?

If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, take some time to think about your attitude and thought patterns…make a “room for improvement/goals list” to draw your attention to the particular things in your life you might like to change…but don’t get caught up in harshly judging yourself. It can interfere with your peace of mind, your enjoyment of the simple things in life and your self-esteem/self-confidence.
Setting goals is an important part of my work with clients.

By sharing the goal development process with a therapist, or even a close friend if you don’t work with a therapist, can serve a few valuable purposes…there is someone with you to bear witness to your announcement and commitment to change. I find that many of my clients are more motivated to follow through when they have someone cheering them on from the sidelines.

When you look at the world through a negative lens, missions and goals may seem incredibly foreign. Many of my clients describe a feeling of being overwhelmed by their twenties/thirties and are unable to see a more hopeful future.
Part of this approach involves “thinking about your thinking“…and addressing self-defeating automatic thoughts and beliefs.

This blog post is focused on standing up to the “I don’t care”/loss of energy/forward motion which often goes hand in hand with feeling overwhelmed.

Negative thoughts, such as “I am stuck/No one cares for me/I can’t move forward/I can’t get through this” suggest that you are indeed stuck in a negative thought web forever. Flip this thinking on it’s head and you can extract a positive goal:

1. I am stuck —> I am capable of moving forward, even if it’s just the smallest,tiniest bit.
2. No one cares for me —> Find exceptions to this statement…Someone doe care for you. (this can be an animal if it’s not a human…or someone who is not necessarily close by.)
3. I can’t seem to move forward —> Question hopeless broad assumptions. Think of instances in which you have moved forward despite difficult circumstances.
4. I can’t stand to feel like this —> I can focus on feeling better as a first step.

Take some time to record your limiting thoughts (like the examples above) in a notebook…and take a look at how these thoughts affect how you feel. Whenever possible, try to turn the negative statements upside down and focus on more positive statements which can help disrupt your feelings of overwhelm and stuck-ness! Remember what Frank Sinatra once said… “The best is yet to come.”

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