The ‘paper tiger’ technique to tame your negative thoughts

You’ve probably heard the term ‘paper tiger’. It refers to something or someone that claims or appears to be powerful or threatening but is actually ineffectual and unable to withstand any challenge.

Negative thoughts as ‘paper tigers’

As we go about daily life, there are many things that invoke fear in us that are actually paper tigers. Most of them are fear-inducing thoughts.

For instance, we may worry about things that will probably never happen or things we cannot control. We worry about what other people think of us and we may play out all kinds of worst-case scenarios in our minds. We may put ourselves down and mull on self-doubts.

In these ways and more, we create paper tigers, giving these thoughts more weight and substance so they seem much scarier and more stressful than they really are.

Identifying your own ‘paper tigers’ is helpful

It can be really helpful to identify your own paper tigers so that you can practice unhooking from them when they arise (more on this below). What are the thoughts that tip you towards fear, stress and anxiety?

Perhaps you find yourself playing out a lot of “what if” scenarios in your mind.

  • “What if I lose my job?”
  • “What if my partner leaves me?”
  • “What if the kids aren’t there for me when I get old?”
  • “What if I have a terrible illness and I don’t know it yet?”

Maybe your ‘paper tigers’ come in the form of worrying about what people think of you.

  • “Did I say the right thing? That sounded stupid.”
  • “I don’t know if they will like me.”
  • “They probably think I’m a loser.”
  • “I am not smart enough for them.”

Or it could be making mountains out of molehills. When small inconveniences or setbacks happen, they become huge in your mind.

  • “They’re going to hate me and never invite me anywhere again!” (If you’re late)
  • “My mum had a stroke, maybe I’m next!” (If you have a headache)

Whatever your particular ‘paper tigers’ are, even though they might claim to be big and scary, in reality, they are simply thoughts. Bits of language that arise in the mind and dissolve. They are mental events.

Even though they can induce a lot of stress and fear, they have no real power to hurt you. There is an old acronym for fear:

That is a good acronym to remember when the ‘paper tigers’ arise in your mind.

This week I invite you to try an experiment in mental strength. Try to be attentive and on the lookout for your ‘paper tigers’. When they come, pause, take a breath and then examine them closely to see if they are simply false evidence drawing you into unnecessary anxiety.

Then, you might like to ask yourself some questions mentally to challenge those thoughts:

  • “Is this thought useful or helpful in any way?”
  • “Who would I be without this thought?”
  • “What is another, more empowering way to think about this situation?”

Then bring your focus back into the present moment and intentionally choose a more empowering, helpful and uplifting approach to whatever is happening in your life.

And then keep noticing what effect this practice has on your mind, body and in your quality of life.

In this way, you can challenge the thoughts that create much of your stress and fear, and reclaim your inner strength and peace of mind, leading to a more happy, resilient and meaningful life.

I wish you all the best with this practice. I hope it’s helpful to you. Thanks for reading, take care and stay strong.

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