This tool is immensely powerful, but using it is not easy.
Asking questions to challenge unhelpful thinking styles requires a commitment to act. If you do not do the work to think about the questions, your answer will always be unhelpful.
I know, I have skirted around unhelpful thinking for years.
Even if I thought to ask one of these questions, I was not interested in the answer. Depression had all the answers, so why would I need to challenge what it was saying?
In fact, depression is jealous of anything that draws my focus away from its obsessive behavior.
Having practiced this now for 14 months, I can identify some unhelpful thinking styles without asking the questions. But for the bigger issues, having a set of questions, a tool I can use, helps me identify depressions crafty attempts to sideline my thinking.
Last year, depression had me convinced that if I turned the radio on while driving, I would find catastrophe when I got home.
These visions included the house being fully engulfed in flames. With our house being 4.75 miles from the nearest fire station, this was alarming. Worse, there are no fire hydrants out here in the country. The fire fighters must bring their own water. And they are all volunteers, so the response time is questionable.
Depression used that background to inform me that if I turned on the radio while driving, something like this would occur.
13 Questions to Ask When Unhelpful Thinking Appears
- How can I test my assumptions/beliefs to find out if they are accurate?
- Do I have a trusted friend who I can check out these thoughts with?
- Is this thought helpful?
- Are there other ways that I can think about this situation or myself?
- Am I blaming myself unnecessarily?
- What or who else contributed to this situation?
- Can I look for shades of gray?
- Am I assuming the worst?
- Am I holding on to an unreasonable or double standard?
- Are there exceptions to these absolutes (always? never)?
- Am I, making this personal when it isn’t?
When depression was telling me not to turn on the radio, I finally got up the nerve to ask these questions. I may have even skipped around to find the easiest questions, to begin with. By the time I had challenged my unhelpful thinking with a few of these questions, I could see what was going on.
How do I know if this thought is accurate? If every time I drove my truck with the radio on, I would come home to find my house on fire, this would be accurate. But in 39+ years of driving with the radio playing, not once have I come home to find the house on fire.
What evidence do I have to support this thought or belief? I can find no correlation between playing the radio while driving and coming home to catastrophe, including the house being on fire. Not only has that not been my experience over 39+ years, but millions of other drivers also do the same thing without catastrophe waiting at home.
Is this thought helpful? Of course not. It is not based on any logical premise. There is no evidence that playing the radio while driving will result in a catastrophe when I get home. It is not a thing that happens.
Three questions into using this tool, I am ready to pick a CD out of my console and crank it up.
Had I used these questions before retiring, I would not be writing this. It would have been obvious that depression was placing unhelpful thinking in my brains. And, as the weeks rolled along, I became more entangled in this plan. Once again, I was secretive, sharing only the minimum information. And I was minimizing the downside (and there were many) and maximizing the positives.
Many times, before, I had gotten away with it.
But finally, I realized that I could break the cycle and do something different. Yes, I had already retired, and yes, I was deeply involved in unhelpful thinking styles. This pushed me all the way to the abyss, and I sunk into darkness. As far as I could see, I had three choices.
- End it all and not have to go through this again
- Keep doing the same thing I had done for 43+ years and expect a different result this time.
- Seek professional mental health help and face my depression.
Choosing to face me and seek professional help was much harder than the other two options. But in the morning I headed to the hospital; I did not see any other choice. I was up against the wall, with nowhere to go.
Today, I keep a copy of these questions on a clipboard hanging next to my desk.
I can see them as I sit in my chair. I enjoy having this constant reminder that I can use when making decisions. It gives me some control. A way to see if what I am thinking makes sense.
Give them a try and let me know what you find.
My concealed depression is written under the alias “Depression is not my boss.” I have certifications in SMART Recovery and am a Global Career Development Facilitator.
Diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder last year, I am sharing what I learn. If you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please share.
I very much appreciate your comments.