We’ve all heard of a knee-jerk reaction or a knee-jerk decision. It is about time we discuss our knee-jerk thoughts, or our “automatic” thoughts. Automatic thoughts are thought processes or mental images that are triggered during certain situations. Let’s use an example of our imaginary friend Joe.
Joe started a new job and he is worried he is not doing so well. It’s week 4 and he is not where he wants to be on his assigned project. His manager calls him into her office to have their bi-weekly meeting. Joe immediately feels uncomfortable and assumes the worst.
During the meeting Joe’s manager compliments his work and tells Joe she is impressed at his progress. He thanks her, feels relieved and goes back to work. On the drive home Joe starts to wonder if his manager was just being nice. He wonders if he is any good and starts to think that he can’t do the job well.
Negative automatic thoughts can be a bitch. Sometimes we don’t even realize they are happening. They can make the most logical person think illogically. Joe is a rock star at work. He is a diligent worker and the company would not hire him if they did not think he could do the job.
Even when someone (like Joe’s manager) tells us we are doing good we can reject their sentiment and keep on with our negative, automatic thoughts. They are shitty but they are familiar, and we find comfort in the familiar. Welp, it is time for us to be uncomfortable.