Willingly or unwillingly, most of us have had the experience of taking a geometry class and learning about such things a circles, trapezoids, and tangents. They are necessary components of the subject and help to build a foundation for advanced math and science applications.

The tangent is a particularly interesting concept. It is a straight line that just touches a circle or curve but does not penetrate it and, instead, it goes off in its own direction. As such, it has taken a meaning outside of geometry to describe a thought that starts in one place but then takes off in a totally different direction.

Negative thinkers often go off on tangents. Too often when I have a patient in front of me who needs a boost in self-esteem, s/he starts looking at a positive assessment of self, and then quickly goes off on a negative tangent. Thus I may ask a patient, “What do you particularly like about yourself?” and after a brief response to the question, he or she reverts to self-criticism. They’ve been self-critical for so long that they can’t seem to focus upon the positive for any length of time before tangential negative thinking kicks in. This frequently happens when I ask other positive-oriented questions in a session – such as. “What makes you so awesome?” or “What can go right?”

In order to both grow as a person and to be fair to ourselves, it is really important to guard against negative tangents. Whenever you are assessing yourself, with the help of a professional or on your own, leave the tangents to geometry. Concentrate on the question that is being addressed. If you are looking at your positive attributes, identify them and then put a period on the statement. In general, no aspect of self-assessment is improved by going off on a tangent.

Ron Kaiser, Ph.D. Psychologist, Educator, Author, Podcaster

Ron Kaiser, Ph.D., is a positive health psychologist, coach, author, podcaster, educator, consultant, and speaker. He has been in practice for more than five decades, including 25 years as Director of Psychology at the world-famous Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University. As an innovative thought leader in the field, he has developed the concepts of THE MENTAL HEALTH GYM, GOAL-ACHIEVING PSYCHOTHERAPY (GAP), THE TYPE P PERSONALITY, and REJUVENAGING®.


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