Stepping in Poo: Getting a Handle on Helpful Thinking

Stepping in Poo: Getting a Handle on Helpful Thinking

Yes. You read that title correctly. I want to talk about stepping in poo (but in the context of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.)

Imagine that I’m walking along, walking along, and  – “squish” – I step in a pile of dog poop.

I think: “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe that I just stepped in that poop! What if it ruins my shoes? What if I track it all over my floor? What if the people at the grocery store can smell it from a safe 6 feet away? They’ll think I stink!”

How am I feeling?

Anxious, right? Worried? Nervous? Probably mostly negative aspects come to mind.

Now, imagine that I’m walking along, and – “squish” – I step in a pile of dog poop, and I think, “That stupid son of a gun! They shouldn’t be allowed to have a dog if they’re not going to clean up after it!”

How am I feeling now?

Yep. Angry. Ticked. Mad. Pissed.

This time I’m walking along, and – “squish” – I step in that pile of poop. This time I think, “I’m such an idiot! No one else would do this. I totally deserve this. Today’s going to be terrible.”

How am I feeling now?

Sad, down, defeated. Anxiety and depression ensue.

Last one, I promise!

I’m walking along, – “squish” – and I think, “That stinks. Oh well, no big deal. I’ll just wipe it off as best as I can and go on about my day.”

How am I feeling now?

Did you say “fine?” That’s not technically a feeling, but I’ll give it to you. Maybe calm, neutral, or indifferent?

Notice that I’m not happy. I wasn’t thinking “Woohoo!!!!! Poo!!!!”

No one likes stepping in poo. That would be weird.

But, I stepped in poop four different times and had four very different reactions. Why?

The Link Between Thoughts and Feelings

Because my thoughts – my mindset – was different each time, and that led to different reactions. If I’m paying attention, this really means something. 

Which one was right?

PAUSE FOR A HOT SECOND HERE and really think about the answer to that question.

Which one was right?

Trick question! None of them are right, per se, but which one was more helpful? 

The last one for sure.

So what’s my point here? Well, we seem to find ourselves right in the middle of one giant pile of pandemic poop. We didn’t see it coming. We didn’t ask for it or cause it. Yet we’re here in the middle of it, nonetheless. Moreover, there are going to be countless poo situations, big and small, throughout your life, many of which are completely out of your control.

Applying a response called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is an evidence-based way to recalibrate our approach to uncomfortable situations.

Having a neutral response filled with balanced thought helps break those negative thought patterns. I’m not saying you have to always have positive thoughts… stepping in dog poop sucks! It’s ok to feel sad or angry from time to time, but long term this kind of automatic negative response is not good for your mental health. It’s not black and white, but the better you can change your thought process and get a handle on your unhelpful thinking, the better you will feel. 

As you now know, there are many different ways to think about the same situation. While there may not be a clear cut right way to think, I’ll bet there are more and less helpful ways to view it. 

Mental health professionals might give you some advice for diagnosis for clinical purposes only. This may help ease the social anxiety and temporary anger for a while, but the cognitive distortions will not go away without constant attention to helpful thinking. 

Tip for Helpful Thinking

You may not naturally have helpful automatic thoughts, but you can certainly change that. Ask yourself these two questions to get a jumpstart on building a more helpful mindset:

1. Is this thought helpful?

2. What are three alternative ways to view or think about the situation?  

If you want turn your unhelpful thinking patterns into helpful thinking patterns, check out our ASCEND program which includes an entire module dedicated to understanding how your mind works and tools for taming it. 

“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
 – Maya Angelou

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