After many years working as a mental health professional, one of the best lessons I have learned is to reality check my thoughts. Assumptions can lead us into all sorts of inaccurate thinking and remove us from the reality of the situation. Behind every emotion is a thought. If I ask you to feel angry, you first need to think of something that makes you angry. It isn’t possible to feel an emotion without a relevant contextual thought. Emotions provide the basic level of satisfaction in life. If we experience more negative emotion than positive emotion we will essentially be living a less happy life. So, it makes sense to reality check your thoughts in order to achieve more contentment and peace in our lives.
The first part in this process is to become more aware of your internal dialogue. What exactly are you telling yourself? Between 70 – 80% of our thinking is inane – it is not productive and it does not assist us in any way. We worry unnecessarily about the past and about future events that may never happen. Become a more efficient “thought manager” and reinvent your life.
One way to reality check your thoughts and become more aware of the content of your inner dialogue is to be on alert for the emotions you are experiencing – especially the negative ones. When you catch yourself feeling sad, despondent, frustrated or angry, try to pinpoint the thoughts that led to those negative emotions.
Instead of buying into the thought and automatically believing it, ask yourself the following questions (this is when you do the reality check).
1) Where is the evidence to support this thought?
2) Where is the evidence against this thought?
3) Is there another way to look at this?
4) Have I considered all the aspects involved?
Here’s an example: you identify a thought like: “My Mother-in-Law doesn’t like me”.
1)Evidence for: She ignored me when I said “hello” yesterday. She didn’t hug me when we left…etc
2)Evidence against: She was chatty and asked me how I was. She wasn’t rude to me.
3) I am only going on my perceptions, I don’t know what she is really thinking. She was busy looking after everyone and cooking lunch and might just have been distracted.
4) Am I feeling more sensitive than usual? Am I contributing to the situation somehow – for instance, is my body language giving off negative vibes due to my reservations about her feelings towards me?
The reason it is Â important to reality check our thinking is because most of us use cognitive distortions and cognitive shortcuts to make the sense of the world around us and often this process goes haywire. We are to quick to believe our thinking when we should really ALWAYS challenge our thoughts. We begin to think we are mind readers when, in fact, we don’t know what others are thinking – we are assuming that we know by interpreting their behaviour.
I have often found that the best way to get on and not torture myself unnecessarily is to act dumb. Take life more at face value. If someone doesn’t actually say “I hate you”, I tell myself everything is fine. This leads to a much more balanced mind whereas if I stewed over why something was said or what someone was trying to do to possibly hurt me, I would be pulled down into the negative thought bog and mood would be pulled down too. I refuse to do it now, as much as possible. This is an ongoing battle of course because our brains are wired to think and process constantly. The good news is that being an efficient thought manager is something you can get good at with practise.
The more you think a certain way (ie. challenging your thinking – which is hard work and a bit clinical at first) the more you will use the same neural pathways and strengthen them, making them more accessible in the future and more natural for you.
Thoughts are NOT fact. Don’t take them too seriously…