In a lecture organised by writer Fayez Farah at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Cairo recently, the Deputy Editor of Al-Akhbar newspaper Mahmoud Atteya, who is also a psychologist, outlined 16 ways of thinking that you should avoid in order to take care of your mental health.
The lecture, entitled “Take Care of your Mind,” pinpointed ways of thinking that could cause psychological distress, among them:
Sifting: This means failing to put things in their proper perspective. If a person faces trouble at work, for example, and then broods on it until he thinks he will be fired, then he is failing to see things as they truly are. If when you have an argument with someone you say that “this person never treated me well,” then you may also be getting things out of proportion.
Polarising: This means seeing things in black and white and failing to see nuances. Either a person is with you or against you, in this way of thinking. “But life does not give people everything. If a person is against me, it is healthy to find out why. There is no such thing as ‘all people hate me’ or ‘all people like me’,” Atteya commented.
Over-generalising: This is where one example is extended to cover all cases. If, for example, a person is tricked by a tradesman, he might go on to think that all tradesmen are crooks — which clearly would be wrong. “Another example is if a friend is having a bad day and speaks to me in a bad way, such that I then think of him as a bad person. It is important to give other people the benefit of the doubt and not generalise from one instance of behaviour,” Atteya said.
Jumping to conclusions: This means drawing the wrong conclusions from what happens by failing to think things through. If, for example, someone were to go late to get a service from a government office and then find that the clerk had already left, he might think that he had left when he saw him coming and take it personally. But this would clearly be false. “Never jump to conclusions. You shouldn’t take things personally,” Atteya said.
Over-simplifying: This is when a person exaggerates by making a big issue look like something simple. A child might fail his exams, leading a parent to think that he can always try again next year, for example. But this would be to over-simplify the matter. “You should talk to your child and see what the problem was,” Atteya added.
Over-magnifying: This is where the exaggeration goes the other way, and someone makes a big fuss out of a small issue. It is much better to try to find out what is really going on without getting things out of proportion.
Personalising: This can happen when two people are chatting, and suddenly they look at you and you think they are talking about you. “This is not true, but you may take it personally,” Atteya said.
My way or the highway: This sort of thinking means a preconceived result that one person tries to impose on others. “It is when you discuss something with someone, and you want him to adopt only your point of view without trying to listen to his point of view. This is not a good discussion since discussions should be based on exchanging views to find a consensus,” Atteya said.
Over-sensitivity: This can happen when someone sees someone he knows, and that person does not greet him. He might think this is a slight, when in fact that person may not have seen him.
Love of control: This is when a person must completely control an issue or have it turn into a catastrophe. “In general, nothing entirely goes the way we want. Something will happen, even if it is not what you planned,” Atteya said.
Over-emotionalising: “When someone grins at you, you might think he does not respect you. But this need not be true. You should always try to be charitable in your interpretation of other people,” Atteya commented.
Giving up too quickly: Many people have failed in what they wanted to do, but this did not cause them to give up. They changed their techniques until they reached success instead.
Blaming: This means putting the blame on something or someone else for things that go wrong. “There are too many people with this attitude,” Atteya noted.
Pessimism: We have to accept that not everything in life is fair, and that people do not always get their just rewards. Nevertheless, there is an Egyptian proverb that says that “he who plants will harvest.” “A person must accept himself as he is and realise that each person differs from others,” Atteya said.
Repetition: This means doing the same thing every day and looking at the same things all the time. But in order to achieve mental health, people should try moving things around so that they do not become stuck in one way of doing or seeing things.
Judgementalism: This can happen when someone tries to talk to one of his friends, only to realise that this person is not listening to him and may no longer be a friend. This can mean identifying them as an “enemy” instead.
Zekri, Tadros, Farah, and Atteya during the lecture
“Everyone has used at least three of these methods of thinking, but they should not make a habit of them. If a person is using six of these thinking methods, he or she should definitely try to snap out of them,” Atteya said.
Some of the ways in which people can avoid such traps include changing lifestyles and scenery. “People could go on journeys at home by moving furniture around, simply to change the way the house looks and change their way of thinking. The same thing goes for clothes. If a person wears the same clothes all the time, he should think about changing his look — the world is changing every day, and a person must change with it,” Atteya said.
For Aziz Tadros, a tourism expert and a participant at the event, travel can be enough to change a way of thinking, and it need not be expensive. Atteya added that it can be a good idea to listen to the ideas of children and see their habits as the beginning of more creative thinking.
“Married couples could take a holiday apart to renew their relationship,” he said. “And last but not least, people should find the time to sit and listen to themselves and find out what they want. They should reflect on what is upsetting them and identify what makes them feel relaxed,” he concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.