It’s true: thoughts aren’t facts. This may sound like a weird thing to write, but it’s scary how often we just accept totally ridiculous thoughts as fundamental statements of truth…especially when we’re feeling low or insecure.
Imagine you’ve had a really terrible day. One of those days that makes you despair of ever getting out of bed again. For example, say on your way to work you walked through a filthy puddle in your new shoes before nearly getting run over by a bus. Then, when you got into the office your hideous boss pulled you straight into a meeting room (a glass meeting room so everyone could see) and gave you a face-melting bollocking for something that was in fact totally their fault. While they were shouting, you looked down and realised your boss was wearing the exact same shoes you were, except theirs weren’t wet and ruined.
It would be very easy to think at this point, “My life is crap”/ “My boss hates me”/ “I hate everything”. Fair enough. Except, when you have a tendency to feel low/anxious/stressed it’s those kind of thoughts that will not only make you feel worse, but also potentially make the situation worse. You have stated each of those thoughts as a fact and therefore will accept them as such. This will make your body tense up, your mood drop and will influence your behaviour. If you’re an angry-type you might snap at your boss and stamp on their unblemished shoes. Not a good idea. If you’re a bottle-it-up kind of person, you might storm back to your desk, write a furious email detailing what an absolute tool your boss is and then accidentally send it straight to them. Again, not a good idea. Your thoughts will directly influence what you choose to do and how you feel emotionally and physically – and if you’re accepting negative thoughts as facts all of those things will in turn be negative.
Those thoughts are just your negatively-skewed brain’s hypotheses, opinions and evaluations. THEY ARE JUST THOUGHTS, NOT FACTS. They are not representations of how things really are and often have absolutely no basis in reality.
If you just thought “I think my boss hates me” instead, everything would be different. Seriously. It may not sound like a big deal, but inserting that little “I think” in front of all-encompassing statements of supposed ‘fact’ will encourage you to look for evidence for and against them. For example:
– Does my boss treat anyone else like he/she treats me?
– Is he/she generally liked in the office?
– What motivations (other than just ‘hate’) could my boss have for blaming me?
– Is it really likely that he/she ‘hates’ me for having made what they believe to have been a mistake? Isn’t it far more likely they’re just frustrated with the situation?
– What other explanations are there for what just happened?
– How can I break this issue down into smaller, more manageable chunks? (i.e. dry my shoes, reassess the problem my boss is upset about and then make a plan for dealing with it)
Whenever you catch yourself indulging thoughts masquerading as facts, challenge them. You’ll no doubt be surprised by how often you put yourself down or see things as universally negative when they’re not. Most of these kinds of thoughts are actually total nonsense. And, even if your boss does have it in for you, you can start trying to work out ways to work around it rather than stewing in your own rage.
‘Thoughts aren’t facts’ is a fundamental philosophy of CBT and if you put it into practise it will alleviate physical symptoms of stress/worry/anxiety/anger, alter your behaviour and lift your mood. It’s a mini miracle in three words.