Thoughts are not Facts

Just because you thought something doesn’t make it true. The next time your mind jumps to a conclusion that sends you in a spiral toward stress or anxiety or even depression, check to see what you were thinking at the time, (where your head was). (If you have been diagnosed as clinically depression and/or anxious, call your physician to get advice, this advice is not intended for you). When you put some space between you and your reaction, it changes your relationship to your thoughts, you can watch them come and go instead of treating them as facts. If you are stuck on a negative thought, ask yourself the following 4 questions; 1. Is it true? Often the answer is, “Well, yes.” This is the brain initially reacting-the autopilot you live with and believe is you. (It is not. It is the protective, critical part of your brain. 2. Is it absolutely true? Is this thought 100% accurate? Can you see the thought in a different way? 3. How does this thought make me feel? Notice any storylines you’re holding onto, and name your feelings: sad, angry, jealous, hurt. 4. What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief? Imagine possible benefits to your relationships, energy levels, and motivation. Excerpted from Uncovering Happiness by Elisha Goldstein.

So you’re waiting in the hallway with your mind spinning about how it’s been a pretty crappy day and life just doesn’t seem to be moving in the direction you’d like it to. Your friend walks by you and although you raise your hand to wave hi, she looks at you and just walks by.
Take a moment to sense what happened in your mind before reading any further.
Various thoughts may have arisen in connection with uncomfortable emotions:

  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • “I’m worthless.”
  • “I knew it, nobody likes me.”
  • “What the hell is wrong with her?”
  • “What’s the point, really.”

OK…now let’s say your boss just told you what a fantastic job you’ve done and how she’s going to give you a 15% raise and an extra week vacation. This is great news…as your mind is spinning around all the ways this will enhance your life, your friend walks by and as you raise your hand to say hi, she just walks by.
Now what comes up in your mind?
Many people might have an alternative viewpoint here.

  • “I wonder what’s wrong with her.”
  • “I hope she’s ok.”
  • “Maybe she didn’t see me.”

Same event, different precipitating event and mood, different interpretation.
The bottom line: Thoughts simply aren’t facts, they are mental events that pop up in the mind and are dependent on our mood. In this case, dependent on the precipitating event that led to the mood of feeling depressed versus excited.

Next time your mind jumps to a conclusion that inevitably sends in you in a spiral toward depression or anxiety, check to see where your head was at the time of that interpretation. What just occurred prior? There may be some clues as to why the interpretation was made that way.

Adapted from Mindfulness & Psychotherapy

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Nicole Hanusek

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