Thought Reversals: Simple Trick for Getting Unstuck

A counter-intuitive approach to problems

Posted May 31, 2014

You hear it, I hear it: People who say things like “If my boyfriend would just talk to me more, I’d wouldn’t be so irritable around him. ” And you think, “Well I bet if you weren’t so irritable, maybe he would talk to you more.” Easy to sometimes see this as an outsider, but often hard to decode when you’re in the middle of it all.

But stepping back from a problem, starting at the other end of the problem equation is often the best place to start. If you’re stuck with a problem, often the solution lies in counter-intuitive, against-your-grain action. Here are some examples:

If I wasn’t so depressed, I’d have more energy and could do more. Try pushing yourself to do more and you may actually begin to feel less depressed.

If my boyfriend didn’t pressure me for sex I would enjoy it more. If you can take the time to figure out what would make sex more enjoyable for you, you might initiate it or not see his advances as pressure.

If I stop smoking, lose weight, etc. I’d feel like exercising more. Exercise more and you may then be inclined to lose weight, stop smoking, etc.

If my boss wasn’t so critical I’d feel better about my job and be more productive. Try being more productive and see if it changes your boss’ criticisms.

If I didn’t have such an awful childhood, I’d be more assertive and have better self esteem. Try being assertive and your self esteem will increase and your past will bother you less.

If I wasn’t so socially anxious, I’d get out more. If you get more you can begin to desensitize yourself to social situations and become less anxious.

If my brother and I got along better, I’d spend more time with him. Spend more time with him and see if it helps you get along better.

You get the point: Reverse whatever you’re thinking. Fix an emotional state by acting “as if”: Not waiting to feel better to act but acting now in the present to feel better. Break the negative pattern in a relationship by stopping your side of the negative pattern. Whatever you see as an obstacle to what you want, eliminate the obsacle by doing what you want. Don't wait on or blame the other guy.

Yes, I know, that doesn't mean that it is easy to do, but it's okay to take baby steps, to ask for support – the running buddy, your partner reminding you to call your brother, a friend to sit next to you to help you feel less anxious when you meet up with a group at a bar – it's the results that are important not the means.

Act and see if your perspective changes.