Don’t Believe Everything You Think
We can't control other people's actions and behavior. But it turns out that controlling your own thoughts and internal dialogue can have a huge impact on your well-being. Keep reading to find out why.
You get to work and say good morning. Everyone answers you except for one guy, who doesn’t even turn to look at you. Immediately, your mind kicks into overdrive. “What’s wrong with him? Did I do something and he’s mad at me? But what? Maybe I annoyed him in the meeting the other day… But I didn’t say anything personal, it was just a professional opinion. No, I’m sure it’s not that. Then, what? He’s just rude?”
It’s that easy to fall into a vicious cycle of rumination. You turn something over and over in your head, and can even make yourself sad, angry, or nervous with these thoughts. Is there even anything happening with your coworker? Maybe he didn’t answer because he was concentrated on his work. Maybe he didn’t even hear you. So why do our minds do this? What role do our thoughts play in making us feel bad? Keep reading to find out…
“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet–
Is the situation itself upsetting you or just the way you’re interpreting it?
As a general rule, when you experience negative emotions you blame them on concrete situations or others’ actions. You believe that you’re upset because of things that are out of your control. In other words, you assign external causal attributions to your feelings.
You get mad because your coworker didn’t say good morning. That is something you can’t control. What if instead of focusing on other people’s reactions, you try to regulate your own emotions? The one thing you can control is how you interpret the things that happen around you.
So what does that mean, exactly? Well, it means that you didn’t get mad because something external, out of your control, happened to you. Your interpretation of the situation was what made you mad. You thought that your coworker didn’t answer you because he’s annoyed with you or because he’s a jerk. Who wouldn’t feel upset about these kinds of thoughts? However, if you look at it objectively, there is no real reason to be mad about what happened.
What if you had different thoughts instead of negative ones? What if you thought “He probably didn’t even hear me” or “He’s really focused on what he’s doing, it’s nothing personal”. Do you think you’d still be upset? Obviously not. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have been bothered in the least. This is the perfect illustration of the role that your thoughts play on your mood and your well-being.
Do your thoughts reflect reality?
Thoughts can influence your mood even if they aren’t realistic. The fact is that most of us don’t often ask ourselves if what we think is real or not. We just believe ourselves, and that’s it. So, even if your coworker has absolutely no problem with you, you think that he does, and that thought becomes a fact in your mind. You get angry as if there were actually a reason to do so.
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
So why does your mind work this way? Well, in general, human beings need to know why things happen. If we don’t have enough information about the facts, different biases come into play and we draw our own conclusions. These conclusions, however, might not be the most realistic ideas. Along with that come negative emotions that wouldn’t be necessary if we could align more with reality.
No one teaches you that what you believe might be wrong. If you can learn to question your internal dialogue, you’ll be able to regulate your emotions more effectively. In fact, the influence your thoughts have on your mood can be a positive thing. How? Replace your negative ideas and internal dialogue with positive self-instruction!
This article is the first in a series of five articles about managing the things that go through your mind. The truth is that it isn’t easy. However, with a little effort and commitment, you can make it happen. The first step is understanding and internalizing the influence that your thoughts have on your mood. That way, you’ll be aware of the importance of questioning yourself and changing the thoughts that don’t reflect reality. Don’t believe everything you think. You’ll be happier for it!
Images courtesy of Roberto Nickson.