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Inventory of Positive Psychology Interventions

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Name of intervention: Avoiding sink holes


Source: Zone Positive*

Tags: Challenging beliefs, false beliefs, negativity

Short description: Identify and deal with negative beliefs


Goal of this intervention:
This intervention is a continuation of the cognitive behavior theme and a sequel to the Reframing the situation
exercise. It delves deeper into how some beliefs are formed and what can be done to challenge these beliefs
before they lead to regrettable actions.
The goal of this exercise is to become more aware of the common traps we sometimes fall into when
situations occur (how we often internalize, explain or rationalize things). More importantly, we seek to redirect
these negative thoughts into more positive and productive cognitive behaviors.
How to conduct this intervention:
Try to complete this exercise using recent events in your daily life or things that happen to you over the next
week or two. Record examples of these events that might fit into any or all of the following categories. Heres
an example for jumping to conclusions: my sister called yesterday and asked what I was up to. I immediately
assumed she was looking for a favor- like covering for her down at the club where she works. I could feel my
blood pressure rising- I felt like I was being backed into a corner.
Sink Hole
Jumping to
conclusions
Tunnel vision

Magnifying and
minimizing

Personalization

Externalizing

Over
generalizing

Mind Reading

Signs:
Responding impulsively to situations
before you have full information. Loss
of control over emotions.
Focusing on the negative. On
behaviors that mesh with your
thinking (negative or positive)
ignoring data that could disconfirm
beliefs.
Collecting all the information, but
overvaluing some and undervaluing
others. Leads to self fulfilling
prophesy. Growth and change
requires a balanced, accurate
appraisal of the situation.
Reflex tendency to attribute problems
to ones own doing. Often leads to
depression and/or guilt (because
others have been violated and its
your fault). You only see the internal
causes of a problem and not the
external cause. Resiliency requires
accuracy. Self efficacy requires belief
that you can change the internal
causes.
Opposite of personalizing. Problems
are rarely your fault. Protects the
persons self esteem. Externalizers
fail to identify the problems that were
genuinely their fault and within their
control. They think everyone else
has let them down. Prone to anger.
Character assassination reaction to
problems (Im a bad parent).
Explanatory style (me, always,
everything).
Those who jump to conclusions.

What happened?

Emotional
Reasoning

Getting angry because others cant


read your mind and know what to
do/say. Gets in the way of problem
solving. Ask questions to
understand/clarify the situation
before making assumptions.
Falsely attributing positive emotion.
Im feeling good so I must have
convinced them that Im the person
for the job. Drawing false
conclusions about the world based
on your emotional state.

Questions to ponder:

How many situations/examples were you able to come up with from your daily life
Do you tend to fall into one or two sink holes consistently or are there more?
What might you take away from this in terms of understanding yourself?
How do you think your mood might be affected by your sink holes?
How do you feel about yourself after a sink hole reaction?
For each example you give, what might be a different way to reframe the situation? How might your
response change with this reframing?

Expected outcome
Resilience is depleted when we take actions that are based on false or inaccurate beliefs. Conversely,
resilience can be bolstered when we can consider problems more comprehensively-- with all the information
that is available at hand. Information helps us make better, more accurate judgments.
Things to watch out for

Its often easier to practice this skill after a situation of adversitywhen emotions have died down and
you have a fresh perspective. It might be better for your client to practice this exercise several times
(or more) before expecting it to work during an actual incident.
It is not uncommon for us to see issues as black or white. Trying to reframe situations to see that
there might actually be gray is not an easy task, especially in the heat of the moment. But practice
does make it easier.
Reframing sink holes may challenge life-learned habits of induction (x therefore y). This exercise
may surface the fact that mistakes can and do happeneven when it disputes natural induction
tendencies.

Is there any science to support this intervention


This exercise has its roots in the cognitive therapy work originated by Aaron Beck. Cognitive therapy is based
on the belief that patients learn to change their thinking to overcome depression and anxiety.
The Penn Resiliency Project (PRP) has done extensive research in the areas of optimism and resiliency
including 13 controlled studies among 2000 participants. Majority of these studies showed positive effects on
anxiety and behavior.

Additional comments: Here are some guidelines to pass along when dealing with sinkholes- authored by
Karen Reivich, Ph.D.
Trap
Jumping to conclusions

Signs:
Responding impulsively to situations before you
have full information. Loss of control over
emotions.

Tunnel vision

Focusing on the negative. On behaviors that


mesh with your thinking (negative or positive)
ignoring data that could disconfirm beliefs.

Magnifying and
minimizing

Collecting all the information, but overvaluing


some and undervaluing others. Leads to self
fulfilling prophesy. Growth and change requires a
balanced, accurate appraisal of the situation.

Personalization

Reflex tendency to attribute problems to ones


own doing. Often leads to depression and/or guilt
(because others have been violated and its your
fault). You only see the internal causes of a
problem and not the external cause. Resiliency
requires accuracy. Self efficacy requires belief
that you can change the internal causes.
Opposite of personalizing. Problems are rarely
your fault. Protects the persons self esteem.
Externalizers fail to identify the problems that
were genuinely their fault and within their control.
They think everyone else has let them down.
Prone to anger.
Character assassination reaction to problems (Im
a bad parent). Explanatory style (me, always,
everything).

Externalizing

Over generalizing

Mind Reading

Emotional Reasoning

Those who jump to conclusions. Getting angry


because others cant read your mind and know
what to do/say. Gets in the way of problem
solving. Ask questions to understand/clarify the
situation before making assumptions.
Falsely attributing positive emotion. Im feeling
good so I must have convinced them that Im the
person for the job. Drawing false conclusions
about the world based on your emotional state.

What to do about it
Goal is to slow down, ask yourself
what evidence youve based your
conclusion on. Are you certain or are
you guessing?
Refocus yourself on the big picture.
What is a fair assessment of the entire
situation. How important is this one
incident to the whole picture?
Strive for balance. Where there any
good things that happened? Did I do
anything well? Or, am I overlooking
any problems? Is there anything that
Im dismissing the importance of?
Learn to look outward. Did anyone or
anything else contribute to this
situation? How much of this problem
is due to me and how much is due to
others?

Start holding yourself accountable.


What did I do to contribute to this
situation?

Look more closely at the behaviors


involved. Is there a narrower
explanation than the one Ive assumed
to be true? Is there a specific behavior
that explains the situation?
Learn to speak up and ask questions
of others. But first ask yourself: did I
make my beliefs or feelings known
directly and clearly? Did I convey all
pertinent information?
Practice separating feelings from the
facts. Have there been times when
my feelings didnt accurately reflect the
facts of a situation? What questions
must I ask to know the facts.

Readings:
Reivich, K., Shatte, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor. New York: Broadway Books.

*Adapted

from the ABC exercise, Karen Reivich Ph.D. - University of Pennsylvania

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