Another Reason Why Thoughts Are Not Facts

Editor’s Note: Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is in private practice in West Los Angeles and is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, March, 2010). Dr. Goldstein, who comes from a family of psychologists, advocates that mental health comes from an approach that looks at all aspects of the self – physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual.

As a licensed Psychologist, he teaches mindfulness-based programs in his own practice and through InsightLA. He has spoken at the UCLA Semel Institute and Anxiety Disorder Clinic, the UCLA Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Conference headlining Thich Nhat Hanh, Daniel Siegel, and Jack Korfield, University of Washington with Dr. Alan Marlatt, among others and is author of the popular Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog on Psychcentral.com and Mentalhelp.net. He has been published in The Journal of Clinical Psychology and quoted in the New York Daily NewsReutersNPRUCLA TodayBeliefnet.com and The Week Magazine.

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?”

Okay now let’s say you’re 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 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.

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