I have used my approach to combating Trickster Thoughts widely, from decreasing depression and anxiety to increasing college sports performance with very good results.
Trickster Thoughts are very sly. They try to persuade a person to believe the worst. Outcomes drastically vary between thinking Trickster (negative) Thoughts, thinking optimistically (positive) and thinking accurately.
Trickster Thoughts cause problems for the person who doesn’t recognize them, because the thoughts are often negative and most of all, wrong. Trickster Thoughts make us tell ourselves: “What’s the point? I will never do anything right.” And, “I am so stupid. I am worthless.” These thoughts lead to depression and make things worse. For people who worry, Trickster Thoughts sound like: “I will fail; I won’t get the job.” Or, “It won’t work out well.” In sports, the Tells Fortune Trickster may sound like, “We can’t beat this team. I can’t make this shot. Everybody will hate me if I screw up.” All of those thoughts are possible, but just because you think them doesn’t mean they are true or accurate. They are tricking you. If you don’t recognize these thoughts as lies and you instead believe them, these thoughts will decrease your performance whether it is in sports or in life.
Trickster Thoughts are often the easiest type of thoughts to have. They jump into our heads and are the first in line to tell us what is going on. It takes work to monitor thoughts and think, “Wait, is that true? Are there other options that I’m missing?” Then we have to think of other possibilities that are accurate.
I recently taught a workshop and made up a multiple guess questionaire for folks there that I’ll share. I gave this scenario: Yesterday you met somebody interesting and later you sent him a text. He didn’t respond. You think: A) He doesn’t like me. B) He doesn’t think I’m good enough to be his friend. C) He thinks he is better than me. Or D) I don’t know. For each answer, many people would raise their hand guessing that it was the right answer.
Answer “A” is the easiest thing to think. But how do you know? Would you bet your moccasins on that answer? Not me. Answer “B” is another easy one. I’m not betting on that one either. Answer “C” would take a jerk to believe that they were better than anyone else. So I wouldn’t bet the squished penny I laid on the railroad track on that one. Those three are all possible, but most likely are wrong. I don’t have ESP. I don’t know what my new friend is thinking; I would only have a guess.
Here are the other possibilities of why he didn’t answer: the battery in his cell phone died; he lost the phone or can’t get texts at work, school, or church; he’s out of the service area; he slept in; he got sick. Therefore, I would bet anything that the right answer is D) “I don’t know,” because it is accurate. That is how Trickster Thoughts and accurate thoughts work. Tricksters make you feel bad. Accurate thoughts give you the freedom to not guess, making you feel glad that you’re not fretting about something that isn’t true.
I have found that to recognize and chase away Trickster Thoughts will lead a person to look for the accurate thoughts. It’s the best way to experience life—to look at situations authentically rather than make problems bigger than they actually are.
How do optimism and positive thoughts fit in? On one hand they can keep a person motivated, happy and moving forward—never quitting, forging ahead. But those thoughts have a dark side if they expect the best to happen and occasionally suffer large and painful disappointments.
I often hear, “Look for the positive”, which can be a good strategy. However, to a person who has a problem simply carrying on with life, overly optimistic comments by someone else can be misinterpreted as not caring about what the person is going through—which can actually makes things worse.
This is what happens. A person shares some struggles she is having and the positive person tries to spin it into something happy. The result is that the person in pain thinks you are blowing her off and aren’t listening. For instance: “Since you lost your leg, you will only have to buy one shoe.” “You’re depressed so go party with some friends.” Often depressed people feel too bad to be around other people. “The pain will go away from that crash and now you can get a new car.”
Pain wears a person out and does not go away when the optimistic person goes away. People who are overly positive or optimistic seem like they don’t care about one’s struggles and use their positive talk to keep their distance and not feel the pain. Being on the receiving end of optimistic talk can block a person from reaching out for help. It hurts when a person reaches out for help and it is rejected with a shallow response. Take time to listen. To me, optimism is overrated. An optimistic person would not need a spare tire in the car because he would never have a flat.
Thoughts are important. Our thoughts control how we feel and can affect others as well. Trickster/negative thoughts, optimistic/positive thoughts can be good, bad or in between. Taking a moment to think whether a thought is accurate or not will make us feel better, be better friends and play like an all-star if we have the talent.
Dr. Beau Washington received his doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Beau grew up at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where his Father was a teacher. While researching depression, he also discovered the wide range of problems that rumination (dwelling) on problems creates in other mental problems as well. His active understanding of ruminative thought lead to developing a technique for effectively stopping the painful thoughts that plague distressed individuals. In addition, Beau developed cognitive models of depression and addiction.
Beau’s therapy model is entering the clinical trial stage at the University of New Mexico. He is training behavioral health clinics in his therapy. Beau is also adapting his therapy for sports, making it easier for players to focus on the moment.
He has also developed a Native suicide prevention program called “Coyote Thoughts” ©2013. Beau has trained Native mental health clinics and presented at reservations as well as regional and national conferences. Visit his website coyotethoughts.com.