What Making Room for Joyful Thinking - Melting the Snowballs in Your Mind

by Kevin Stacey

© 2002  TrainRight, Inc.

As a society, we seem to be "easily bothered." Many of us are "chronically bothered" by things that are simply counter-productive for us to be focusing on. Asking yourself "what is it costing me?" is a powerful question because it gives you the wisdom to understand, on a deep level, that "it’s just not worth it."

A mental snowball occurs whenever you allow negative thoughts to build up and race out of control. It’s the mental equivalent of your tires being stuck in the mud. The more you spin the wheels, the deeper you’re stuck. Although mental snowballs happen all year, they’re particularly present during the holidays. Once pleasant thoughts of seeing friends and family can quickly snowball into stress over shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, family tensions, disappointing childhood memories, and on and on. See how fast the snowball gathers momentum? This holiday season, make a decision to melt your mental snowballs and experience the holidays for what they were meant to be - a joyful time of peace, comfort and thanksgiving.  

5 steps to melt any mental snowball:

1.  Write it down, write it down, write it down.

When you begin to snowball, immediately grab a piece of paper and write down whatever is going on in your mind at that moment. What exactly are you thinking? What exactly are you saying to yourself? The act of writing out your thoughts and clearly defining your snowball helps you focus on and destroy the catalyst for your negative thoughts.
Just “thinking things through” is unrealistic when your mind is racing and bouncing in a million different directions. 

2.  Identify the thought distortion in your snowball.

Mental snowballs are generated from unrealistic and distorted thoughts, often reflecting “worst case scenario” thinking. When you write out your thoughts you expose this thinking in black and white. Take a look at what you wrote in step 1.  Do you recognize any of the following thought distortions? 

  • Jumping to conclusions - without any credible evidence, you predict things will turn out badly.

  • Over generalizing - you view a single negative event as an infinite pattern of defeat, using such words as “never” and “always.”

  • All-or-nothing thinking - if a situation falls short of your expectations of perfection, you see it as a total disaster.

  • Mental filtering - you pick out one negative detail and dwell on it until you can’t see anything else, discarding any positive thoughts along the way.

  • Mind reading - you assume without any evidence or verification that others are reacting negatively to you, are angry with you, etc.

  • Control delusions - you either feel that you have total responsibility for everything and everybody, or you feel that you have no control or influence and you’re a helpless victim.  

  • Emotional reasoning - you assume that things are in reality the way you feel about them emotionally.

  • Disregarding the positive- you overlook any positive occurrences or actions by insisting they don’t matter. Everyone around you may see that you’ve done well, but you may tell yourself it wasn’t good enough or doesn’t count.   

  • Self blaming - you blame yourself for things that may not really be your fault, under your control, or your responsibility. 

  • Labeling - you call yourself or others a global name when you or they make a mistake. 

  • Personalizing - you assume that everything has something to do with you, and you tend to compare yourself negatively to everyone else.   

3. Talk back to your distortion. 

After identifying which of the distorted thoughts underlies your mental snowball, talk back to them and poke holes in the logic that appears to support the distortion. Come up with counter arguments, as if you were participating in a debate and your goal was to knock out your opponent’s position. Read your writing out loud. Respond to each assertion you wrote with one of the following questions or statements:

  • “How do I know for sure?”

  • “What evidence do I have?”

  • “What is the probability that is going to happen?”

  • “Maybe, maybe not.”

  • “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

  • “One day at a time.”

  • “Perhaps.”

  • “I’m jumping to conclusions.”

This step will help you identify whether you are accepting your thoughts as facts without first assessing reality.

4. Exaggerate the snowball until it becomes ridiculous.

Psychologist Albert Ellis calls this technique “awfulizing.” In your mind or on paper, exaggerate your negative thinking and extend your snowball to the most ridiculous degree. The inherent humor in exaggeration counteracts the physical effects of the stress and panic that accompany mental snowballs. If you can ridicule the snowball, it won’t have power over you anymore. You can do this one on paper, but it works even better if you have the courage to say it out loud to a trusted friend.   

5. Attack the process of snowball thinking by asking,  “What is this costing me?”

If you can’t identify any distortions, focus instead on the process of snowball thinking rather than the content of your thoughts. Ask yourself the questions, “What is it costing me to engage in snowball thinking?  How does a mental snowball help my situation?” Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of snowball thinking. One person shared with me that he engaged in snowball thinking whenever he thought about his wife, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He melted this snowball with the following thoughts: “My wife does have cancer, and I can’t change that fact, but the more I get worked up over this, the less I’m going to be able to be there for her. Also, the more she sees that I’ve lost it, the more she will lose it.” A powerful example that attacking the process itself can work in even the most difficult circumstances.

Remember, the goal is not to control every negative thought you ever have, but rather to control whether or not you focus on your negative thoughts and allow them to snowball. As one recent seminar participant told me, “There is so much snow in the world, and I’m surrounded by it, but it is so empowering and uplifting to realize I am in charge of what I let snowball.” Imagine what your life would be like if you melted just half your snowballs. What if you melted them 5 minutes faster than you used to? Give the techniques above a try and see what happens. Believe you’re in charge of it and you can do it!

About the Author

Kevin Stacey helps companies and professionals achieve maximum productivity and effectiveness through stress management and time management training.  He is available to speak on these topics.  For more information visit http://www.TrainRightInc.com or call 1-800-603-7168.

© 2002 Permission is granted to reprint this article in print or on your web site so long as the paragraph above is included and contact information is provided to reprint@TrainRightInc.com   Thank you.