Stop Twisted Red Zone Thinking Today!

Bette Davis and I have been part of the Green Zone Team from the very beginning. Bette, who has served as a therapist, leader and teacher in mental health for more than forty years, is my colleague, co-therapist and co-author of the Green Zone Book Series. I have always been impressed by her knowledge, experience and wisdom. She has inspired so many people in her life and has been a role model for many students and patients. So when I invited her to share some of her wisdom in our Blogs she kindly agreed. In the next few weeks you will read her Blogs but I will still be here to read and respond to your comments.


Dr. Sohail


Thus far in our Green Zone Blog, Sohail has been in the driver’s seat, but I am thrilled to switch places with him for a few weeks and share with you initially some of my personal concepts regarding our individual emotional health. Then a little later I’d like to talk about some of the Green Zone strategies that work in our relationships with our Dear Ones.

Okay? So here we go!

It is my deep belief that one of the central gifts and goals of the Green Zone Philosophy is to help people develop tools in their Toolkits to enhance emotional and relationship intelligence, to become smarter about how we behave in relationships with ourselves and others.

I grew up surrounded by incredible dysfunction, which was confusing and distressing. Later when I was in charge of my own life and had to figure out how to create a Green Zone lifestyle from Red Zone roots, I was really stumped.

Overtime, I figured it out. The strategies I developed were grouped together in what I eventually called my Policy Manual. So let me share with you some of my strategies in my Green Zone Policy Manual.

First up, Triggers and Red Zone Thinking.

I knew I needed to figure out the situations and people that triggered me to go to the Yellow and Red Zones, and I also needed to figure out strategies to get me back to the Green Zone. Although I found there were toxic people who needed to be dealt with, my main way of getting derailed was Red Zone Thinking. I gradually realized that the first step to being happier and coping better is an inside job – in other words, changing the Red Zone Thinking or the inner dialogue in my own head.

They (you know, the Wise Ones) say that we have over 50,000 thoughts every day and 90% are the same as the day before! We have these perpetual thought patterns of self-talk that go unchecked and unchanged automatically day after day, year after year. And many are as old as when we made our foundational thought patterns, before the age of 7! I realized my self-talk was full of unkind, pessimistic and highly inaccurate information. Wow, what a shock to realize that a traumatized 7 year old was running my life!

Sohail and I have written about Green Zone communication within a relationship and, of course, that is vital for relationship health, but it all starts with having kind, respectful, loving and accurate self-talk in your own head! When I am working with clients I don’t often have to ask what their self-talk is, because they tell me in the comments they make about themselves!

So the first Step, was to be aware of how I talked to myself and then how I felt. I stood back a bit in my own head and observed – What am I thinking? How do I feel? At the beginning, I found it helpful to do this several times a day, particularly when I was feeling something intense. So I would just try to get a little distance from the situation and ask: What am I thinking? How do I feel? Sometimes switching it around also works. How do I feel? What am I thinking? I have to say at the beginning, many years ago, it wasn’t a pretty picture! But gradually I realized I was able to control the accuracy and kindness of my thoughts which helped me treat myself better. I learned to treat myself as well as I treat others, and to surround myself with people who nurtured and respected me.

The second Step, was to find the fastest and most effective ways to correct this Red Zone thinking. I learned that there are over 50 techniques to correct our twisted self-talk! But there is one that became my favourite.  I think it is the quickest and most magical of them all.  It is called the Double Standard.  It is where you consider how you would speak to a Dear One in the same situation, compared to how you speak to yourself. If someone we loved was distressed about a mistake they had made, for example, you would show some compassion in your comments and you would be aware of your language. You likely wouldn’t be as overwhelmingly harsh as many people are with themselves, sometimes years later.

So now it’s your turn. First, when you are distressed through this next week, ask yourself: What am I thinking? How do I feel? and listen to what you are saying to yourself. And then, think about how that inner dialogue would affect a Dear One in the same situation and how you would change it to be more accurate and kind.

Wishing you a great week in your Green Zone.



Bette Davis RN BN MN with Dr. K. Sohail

15 thoughts to “Stop Twisted Red Zone Thinking Today!”

  1. Hi Bette,

    Its a pleasant surprise to see you in the driving seat. Where Dr. Sohail’s style is eloquent and conscious, yours is more expressive and upbeat. We are used to the comfortable and safe driving style of Dr. Sohail, it is really a treat to enjoy the thrilling and fun ride for a change.

    Thank you for bringing up the important topic of self talk. I had never thought this angle before and have been troubled by the changing quality of my self talk. There’s no doubt that the quality of self talk is a direct reflection of general quality of life. Going through difficult times myself, I have experienced that when I was weak, I resorted to a poor quality self talk. As I recovered my strength, my self talk started to become more healthy. The only thing that helped me was a hope for a better tomorrow and that somehow proves into a self fulfilling prophesy. I completely agree with you that surrounding ourselves with positive and supportive people is the number one way of getting you out of the vicious cycle of internal negativity. As civilized humans, we have the responsibility to remember and cherish the factors that pulled us out of negativity so that we can remain positive and help other people out.

    Thanks for the passionate article.

    1. Dear Jahanzeb! I am so thrilled that you have become aware of your self-talk. In mental health, it is one of the most powerful concepts, as it makes you either your own best friend or your worst enemy. Many people are not aware until someone draws their attention to it. Up to that point, it is like a radio playing in the background that we are not really listening to. But when we listen to it we realize that we are saying inaccurate and unkind things to ourselves all day long. Often times we would not allow others to speak to us in that way because we would be so offended, and yet we do that damage to ourselves regularly and then wonder why we are depressed, afraid or have low self-esteem!
      When I was learning about self-talk many years ago, I smiled hearing this insightful comment from Mark Twain, who said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”!
      Wishing you well in Your Green Zone!

      1. Hi Bette,

        Now that I am aware of the phenomenon, I will sure be in a better position to put some scrutiny on it. In retrospect, if I think of times I have been harsh with myself is when I have committed mistakes that have harmed me. Those times, you are left with the only option to scold yourself for not being careful. But I have to admit, overdoing it deprives you of energy and the burdensome state of mind lingers. What should one do in such situations where you have nobody else to blame for a blunder?

        1. Hi Jahanzeb! That’s a great question and, like you, many people feel regret over a mistake they have made, and often live with feelings of shame and guilt, sometimes for all of their lives.
          This is also the focus one of my other favorite Policies in my Green Zone Policy Manual. When Dr Sohail heard of your comment he made a suggestion that this would be a great Blog topic, as many others deal with this issue. But since the Blog is ready for this week, you will see the Blog you inspired the week after on March 28.
          thank you for your wisdom!

        2. Dear Jahanzeb, I am so glad you liked Bette’s Blog and shared your intellectually stimulating comments. Stay in touch
          Dr Sohail

  2. Oh the policy manual:) I have had a hard time over the years figuring out where to start and what to put. I’ve done it a number of times and never really finished. As I working on it now with the intention to have a sound manual I am grateful for the direction you have given me in this article, by looking at triggers. I believe knowing where you stand and sticking to it is an integral part of a person’s overall well being.
    The time is now! Parts of it will inevitably change over time with experience and new lessons learned, what’s important is the development of the self from the inside.

    Thank you always for your support and guidance!

    1. Tonia, you are far too hard on yourself! You have done an incredible job of identifying and living by your guiding principles, and in addition inspiring others to do so. And you are correct that principles change over time as new lessons are learned, but it has been my realization that until I wrote them down, such as in our Green Zone Books, I had difficulty remembering them when I most needed them.
      Your Green Zone Policy Manual is your personal reference book to be used when puzzled or in crisis and should be regularly updated. I would suggest that you have a special Binder for yourself where you can store your wisdom to date, include, as well, those Green Zone Principles that have worked for you.
      It has been my pleasure to be part of your journey!

  3. Pessimism and unkindness and extremely powerful mindsets, especially when children are encompassed by and raised under those circumstances. To me it is akin to being up to your neck in rising water and being forced to tread water in the hopes that the water level will recede rather than totally overcome. Survival. What to feel … Why, Why, Why. What to think … I will surely perish but I must keep paddling until I cant any longer.

    My mother was the most pessimistic and unkind person that I have ever known. Hardened and miserable to those who were closest to her but passively half decent to strangers or those whom she wasn’t intimate with. There was no getting away from it – the negativity and pessimism hung like a shroud around our home. We were all up to our necks in the water. Unable to comprehend the Why of it all and often feeling like we wouldn’t survive. Surely we would die.

    Then at the age of 96 years, when my mother had been living in her own apartment in my home for 10 years her health began to rapidly decline. It wasn’t long before I became her sole caretaker. Every doctors appointment, clinic visit, specialist, medical lab trip was a nightmare. She balked at the medical profession citing that they were all idiots who didn’t know what they were doing and that it was all just a waste of time. No amount of appeasing her would ease the horror of it all. We were up to our necks and the waves were crashing. What was I thinking … Why Why Why is she so miserable and cantankerous. What was I feeling … Great sadness, exhaustion, ineptness … but I was holding tight to the side of the tank.

    And then something amazing within me took place – I was suddenly able to feel great compassion for this person – yes, I say person because she sort of stopped being my Mom and became just a human being. A person who was eternally miserable but was dying and afraid. Her life was slipping away and as much as she tried to be very casual about life going on – it just wasn’t going to happen. She fought hard against it but it was inevitable. I remember thinking .. She is going to die … I shoved the word Miserably out of my thoughts and just stayed focused on the fact that she was dying and wanted to do so medically unassisted and on her own terms and so I committed to stand by her to that end. She had also reached for the side of the pool to hang on and then something happened …. the waters began to recede.

    In her last lucid 24 hours she suddenly became calm and had quit fighting. The orneriness was gone and was replaced with acceptance, or so it seemed. This was a woman that I had never known before. Calm, uncomplaining, relaxed, her feet, at last, on solid ground. Sometime in early morning she had a final stroke which left her in a coma where she remained for 2 days before she took her last breath. She was surrounded by her children who mourned the woman that they wished she had been. My only tears were for my siblings who had not experienced the woman at the very end. The woman whose cloak of negativity had at last fallen to the ground – into the water, if you will. Each and every one of us deserved to witness her acquiescence … but they did not. How did I feel … I felt good that I had managed to tread the water long enough for the waters to recede where I could compassionately care for the woman who birthed me. What was I thinking … thank goodness that she is no longer suffering and I am now on dry land.

    1. Georgina, your wisdom and courage in the face of your Mother’s persistent negativity is inspiring! Sadly, she showered you and your siblings with her pessimistic and even cruel inner dialogue for all of your lives. It is understandable that this negativity is internalized and becomes our own, particularly in childhood. Thankfully, over time you were able to make the distinction between her thinking and yours!
      Your Healing is evident in your life and your regular contributions to our Blog! Thank you.

      1. Dear Georgina, Your story is the story of a minority who can reflect on their past and unlearn the past conditioning. That is incredible and that is why your story can be a source of inspiration for many of our readers.
        Dr Sohail

  4. I read it now. Its just a good start and message a very positive impact. Willing to read it contineousely now. The way Bette wrote it its amazing. Now Tuesday is again a creative day in my life.

    1. Dear Yasin Baig, I want to thank you for translating one of our Blogs in to Urdu and posting it on your Facebook Page. There were so many people who have read it and commented on it. I hope you keep on translating these Blogs as they can help many Urdu speaking people also.
      I am so happy Bette has agreed to write a few Blogs. She has helped so many patients and their families in our clinic. I want her to share her knowledge, experience and wisdom with more and more people and our Blog is one way to share the message of mental health and peaceful Green Zone Living with a wider audience.
      Dr Sohail

    2. Dear Yasin! thank you for your kind words and encouragement! It means a lot to me that you enjoyed it and that you are so involved with our Blog.

  5. Hi Darlene! That is another great question to ask….”what part of this is mine”! Excellent!
    I would certainly think that the compassion we have for ourselves is reflected in our self talk and flows out to others. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  6. Hi Bette and Dr. Sohail

    The idea of getting in the practice of stepping back and asking: what am I thinkng,
    how do I feel, and also; what part of of this is mine is very helpful.

    I have also found the more compassion I have for myself the more I can give to others freely.

    Thank you for your advice.

    Warm Regards,

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