Do you remember that Monty Python song about looking on the bright side of life?
Here’s a bit of it..
‘Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle,
And this'll help things turn out for the best, and...’
If you've remembered how the tune goes good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of today! It’s certainly a catchy one. Alternatively if you've never heard the song might be one to YouTube. I think looking on the bright side of life is a useful idea to keep in mind. Let’s face it there’s always plenty of bad stuff going on at any point in time such the state of the economy, Ebola, plight of the elderly, wealth inequalities, etc. It sure is easy to be negative about and focus on many things going wrong in life. If you had to think about five things you don’t like about work how easy would this be? On the other hand, it can be helpful to think how useful it is to focus on all of these realities too much. This is to say whether it helps anyone to feel better, or if you would just worse. Or in fact whether focusing too much on such events can change any of the unpleasantness of these situations.
Indeed the same can be true for the habits people can sometimes get into of focusing on themselves and on the mistakes they have made at the expense of everyday ‘mini-successes’. This would be considered a thinking bias in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Let’s have a think about the impact this can have for people. If done often and in all parts of people’s lives, it can easily lower people’s confidence and leave people more vulnerable to depression. After all it’s hard for anyone to feel good about life if they are caught up with seeing the worst in what they have done all the time. This is the sort of problem that we see in CBT here at Leeds IAPT.
One example of this can be seen from a woman who shared this thinking bias and had difficulties with depression. As part of her job she completed a teaching session and evaluated this afterwards in her therapy session as being a ‘disaster’. On discussion of what had happened there was one issue she had not been able to deal with as fully as she would have liked. However, with further exploration many aspects of her performance had gone well. Overlooking the more positive aspects of her behaviour had been a typical thinking bias for her and contributed to a belief of being a failure. This can be the sort of difficulty we deal with through CBT.
Anyone can slip into this habit. Who can really say they have never slipped into this thinking bias to some extent? You know, overlooked the things you have done well in place of some small possibly irrelevant mistake. If we put thinking biases on a scale for everyone, at one end have people who do these less often, and at the other people who make these biases more often. People who make them more often are more likely to develop negative beliefs about themselves and be more vulnerable to depression or stress. Perhaps people who are half way up the scale could find themselves doubting themselves more, and having less energy and motivation to do their job. Where do you think you’d be on the scale?
The way I see it more or less everyone could do with being further towards the ‘good’ end of the scale. Here’s an idea for doing that. How about once a day taking some time to think about something you have done and what has gone well from your actions. Preferably something you wouldn’t normally recognise. Maybe it would be useful for someone you know to try this out. In any case, I hope we can agree there is some value in looking on the bright side of yourself.
Matt Garner, CBT therapist, Leeds IAPT