It is easy to make incorrect assumptions about people or situations. We have all experienced a situation where we felt ignored or left out, only to discover later there was a misunderstanding or a miscommunication. A tremendous amount of energy is wasted on incorrect negative assumptions.
Every time we go into the negative loop of creating a problem that doesn’t exist, we are creating and reinforcing negative neural pathways (Davidson, 2012). Our beliefs have a huge impact on our experience of reality and often we fail to recognize that beliefs are just thoughts. We all have the ability to question and change our beliefs, thereby change our world.
We have hundreds of thousand thoughts each day. And due to the negative bias of the brain we notice, focus on, and remember the negative thoughts. We have all had the experience of not being able to get a thought out of our heads. In fact, when people are instructed not to think about a specific topic, it makes it even harder to get that topic out of their minds.
Rehashing negative thoughts over and over in your head, also known as rumination, can be unpleasant and counterproductive. Rumination can actually make you angrier or more upset than you were originally, because the issue becomes magnified in your mind (Wireman, 2011). Thoughts aren’t facts. They are mental events that pop up in the mind.
While thoughts may seem to just appear in our mind, they are actually found to be related to our mood at the time of the precipitating event and our underlying beliefs. Next time your mind jumps to a conclusion that sends you into a negative spiral, ask yourself these questions:
- What was my mood?
- Am I basing my thoughts on untrue beliefs?
- What just occurred prior?
- Was your conclusion based on related or similar incidents?
- Are there other clues as to why the negative interpretation was made?
The questions above are designed to help you slow down the quick judgement process we all have and give us the mental space to conscious decide what we accept as true and make a decision about what we think and do.
This is one of the key benefits of a mindfulness practice. Having more control over where you place your attention, gives you the power over your thoughts and not be ruled by unfounded beliefs, that can lead us to make unwise decisions and suffer the negative consequences of a life of rumination and worry.
Davidson, Richard (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Hudson Street Press.
Wireman, Lea (2011). Suppressing the white bears. Monitor on Psychology, (42) 4, 44.
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