What were you thinking?

Our thoughts are not facts. They are often assumptions, reactions or unfair self-criticisms. Learn to challenge your thoughts to manage your mind.

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Don‘t believe everything you think

Don’t believe everything you think. Our mind likes to make us believe that our thoughts are facts, even when they’re inaccurate. This can make it difficult to enjoy and appreciate certain things in life. From personal insecurities to environmental factors, anything can affect how we think and see our thoughts.

Thinking about thoughts

Each of the following are different types of thoughts someone can experience. As you review them, consider when you might be able to challenge your thoughts and approach them differently.

Good or bad

  • Why this matters. If you think something isn’t perfect, your mind makes you see it negatively.
  • Doing it differently. Consider where you did well and where you could improve on your task. By doing this, we acknowledge that we make mistakes and that everything we do does not have to be perfect. However, this gives us the opportunity to try new things with less fear. We understand that we will learn and see where we can improve.

Negative assumptions  

  • Why this matters. When we conclude that someone’s intention or motivation is negative, even an innocent comment or kind gesture can be viewed with suspicion. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflict that are unnecessary.  
  • Doing it differently. Don’t let your mind get stuck on the negative and make assumptions that haven’t happened yet or may not happen at all. Look at the full situation from a logical point of view – both positive and negative - before assuming the worst.

Stop deflecting, start reflecting

  • Why this matters. When others compliment you on something, you immediately deflect it while also casting doubt on yourself.
  • Doing it differently. Next time you receive praise, notice the first thoughts in your mind. Reflect on the content of your thoughts and learn to understand why your mind leads you to think this way. Allowing yourself to accept more feedback that is positive can boost your self-esteem and encourage positive thinking.

Should I feel guilty?

  • Why this matters. You have an ideal of what you should say or do in all situations and may feel guilty for not following through perfectly all the time.
  • Doing it differently. Change how you judge yourself, so you don’t feel pressured to be perfect. Guilt can cause you to feel stuck; therefore, think instead about what the guilt is telling you to do and what not to do. If you feel bad about hurting someone’s feelings, let them know how you are feeling. You may find that they never gave it another thought. If it is true that you hurt someone, apologize as soon as possible so you can make it right. If you cannot apologize find a way to make someone else or some other situation better as a way to address and eliminate the guilt.

It’s not your fault

  • Why this matters. You self-blame for starting negative events that you could not control and/or think that negative feelings you experience result in current events in life.
  • Doing it differently. Don’t put too much blame on yourself, especially for things that you can’t control. Take these negative thoughts and emotions as an opportunity to reflect. Why do you feel this way? How do your feelings relate to your current situation? Instead of self-blame, encourage yourself through self-boosts of positivity to help you get through these events or emotions. Check out this resource called the “Circle of Influence and Control (https://www.thensomehow.com/circles-of-influence/ or https://dplearningzone.the-dp.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/06/Covey.pdf). This tool helps with what control you have and what control you don’t have.

If you encounter these types of thoughts, try to approach them differently with these tips. The goal is to develop healthier and more positive thinking.

The content above took inspiration from the reference below.

Additional resources

Challenge troublesome thoughts. Learn to manage difficult or troubling thoughts so they don’t dictate your mood or reactions.

Tame your self-talk. “You idiot!” You’d be offended if someone said this to you, but how often do you say it to yourself? Learn to make your self-talk more respectful.

Team activity — What were you thinking? This activity helps team members consider how their external behaviour can better reflect internal intent. 

Stress reduction and the power of thought. The way we think events – past, present or future – affects our stress levels. Most of our thoughts speed past and remain below our level of awareness. By becoming conscious we have the ability to manage them rather than allowing them to manage us. 

Understand anger. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with anger in yourself and others.

Understand guilt. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with guilt in yourself and others.

Understand shame. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with shame in yourself and others.

Understand fear. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with fear in yourself and others.

Understand sadness. Learn to understand the emotion, so you’re better positioned to deal with sadness in yourself and others. 


Stress management: Enhance your well-being by reducing stress and building resilience. (2017). Boston: Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from ProQuest Central Retrieved from http://ra.ocls.ca/ra/login.aspx?inst=centennial&url=https://www-proquest-com.ezcentennial.ocls.ca/reports/stress-management-enhance-your-well-being/docview/1868369754/se-2?accountid=39331

Contributors include.articlesFrançoise MathieuMary Ann BayntonSusan JakobsonTrinelle Brown

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