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Get Clarity: Don't believe everything you think

Posted February 28
Updated March 1

 (Deseret Photo)

Question:

I have noticed when I do something unkind or selfish, I have a tendency to explain the behavior away as someone else’s fault, which gets me off the hook. I don’t decide to do this, I just notice I’m doing it in the middle of doing it. So, it’s almost subconscious but not all the way. I can also get caught up in anger at a friend and start thinking about what’s wrong with our friendship, and the more I think about it the worse I feel. She says I am not seeing it accurately and it’s not that bad. I feel like a drama queen at times. How can I stop doing this?

Answer:

Have you heard the warning, “Just because you read it online, doesn’t mean it’s true.” The same goes for the content of your thoughts. Just because you think it — and you feel horrible about it, depressed because of it, or upset about it — doesn’t mean it’s true either.

Your amazing imagination is constantly creating stories around everything you see, hear or experience. You are such a creative being it is almost impossible for you to see any experience as it really is, as just facts, without your imagination adding to it.

Your thinking patterns today are literally the sum of all your past experiences, and these experiences have created a lens that filters everything you see, hear and perceive. Some of you have a very negative lens, clouded by fear. You may see everything and everyone as a threat (even though it isn’t accurate). Your lens might make you create stories that constantly prove you aren’t good enough. You might see the world through a lens of criticism and blame, which means creating stories where nothing is ever your fault, or your lens might be prone to self-pity, anger or conflict.

A fear-clouded lens distorts the truth and leads your imagination to create stories that fit your biased ideas about the world. You will then confabulate reality to match your story, so you can be right about your negative perspective. Your confabulation helps you to believe your story and think it’s accurate.

In psychology, to confabulate means to produce a fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted view of reality, and we all do this, to some degree, every day. It’s therefore very important you don’t believe everything you think because a large portion of your thinking isn’t true and is creating self-inflicted misery in your life.

It’s hard to wake yourself up and out of these stories because your emotions (very quickly) get involved and they make you feel strong emotions about your story. You then believe the story must be accurate or you wouldn’t feel this way, right?

Your brain creates very real emotions around the perspective you end up with, and these emotions make you buy into the story hook, line and sinker, but that still doesn’t make the story accurate. Your emotions aren’t proof.

Feelings cannot be trusted any more than thoughts can.

You are right about how you feel though. You do actually feel the way you feel and no one can argue with that. But you may be completely inaccurate in the perspective or story you made up, which created those feelings, which means the emotions aren't warranted. (Read that again!)

It is time to grow up and become more personally responsible for your thoughts and emotions. It is time to learn to be mindful and consciously choose your perspective instead of letting your subconscious program choose it.

You deserve to learn this because a large amount of the suffering (you are currently experiencing) is unnecessary and self-inflicted.

So, stop it.

Step back from each situation and observe your mind at work confabulating, justifying and creating made up stories and emotions around it. You are literally creating your entire life in your head. Your life is not as it appears, it is as you are choosing to see it.

Everything is perspective and your perspective is in your control. It may not feel in your control at first because ideas do pop-up (from your subconscious) but once they show up, you have complete control over whether you embrace them and add emotion to them or replace them with something else.

You may resist believing this though, because it’s much easier to find some like-minded people who look at the situation in the same distorted way you do, who will validate you and tell you that you’re right. You will always be drawn to friends and co-workers who see the world with the same filter you have because you crave validation.

Have you noticed that like-minded people are drawn to each other? The complainers and blamers always end up friends. This means if you want to change your thinking and become more accurate and positive, you may have to change your friends.

Here is a procedure you can follow when you want to check your perspective, feelings and thoughts for accuracy:

1. Ask yourself this important question, "If I stopped feeding this story and thinking about it, and instead labeled it as inaccurate and dropped it, would the problem still exist?" Try it and see.

2. Own responsibility for how you are feeling, without any blame on anyone else. If you own it, you also have the power to change it. Wayne Allen, the simple Zen guy, says it’s an odd thing that people will be living in a pile of [crap] and still insist it appeared by magic, they had nothing to do with their being in it, someone else is to blame, and someone else should dig them out. If you live this way you will always be a miserable victim. Don’t do it. Own that you are creating your life and change your thinking.

3. Write down the facts of your situation without any emotion or story around it. You will be surprised how short, simple and benign the facts really are.

4. Write down as many perspective options as you can think of. Get creative and let your imagination go crazy with positive spins you could embrace. You are going to create a story around this situation anyway, so you might as well pick a better, less miserable story that makes you feel good, right? Pick a victor story that gives you a chance to rise to the occasion and be the person you want to be.

5. Feed positive mindsets by hanging out with people who see situations clearly and aren’t prone to drama or negativity. Feed your mind with good books and uplifting content that encourages you to create positive perspectives.

Most of us are unhappy because we don’t know another way to think about our experiences. We were never taught the skills nor given the tools to process life in a more positive way. They don’t teach this stuff in school or church (though they should), so where are you supposed to learn it?

If you have emotional reactions and often feel out of control or stuck in negative thinking, it's time to do something about it. Get some professional help. There are experts all around you who can help you learn these skills. I believe positive, clear, accurate thinking, free from fear, is easy to learn and teach. Our Get Clarity workshop might be a good place to start. My website is also filled with resources to help you get more clarity in your thinking and take control of your life.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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