November 29, 2023

Thoughts Are Not Facts

By Jennifer Hu
Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

We all have thousands of thoughts each day. Some of them are more obvious, like “I’m worried I’m going to be late because the train is late” or, “They must not like me.”

Others are subtler, often triggered by situations or events and leading to negative emotions influenced by our perception of the situation. Thoughts can take the form of words, phrases, images, or sentences.

And here’s the cool thing: not every thought that comes into your mind is true.

Sometimes, we’re unaware of our thoughts, but they keep swimming around in our minds, influencing our feelings and actions. Our job isn’t to cling to every thought, but to acknowledge it and then decide whether to believe it or let it go.

Once we recognize our thoughts, they can then move through us and have less of a hold on us.

Why We Latch Onto Our Thoughts

Before we dive into how to manage our thoughts, let’s understand why we often hold onto them.

Sometimes, we rehearse a thought or play out a scenario in our minds as a way to protect ourselves. For instance, imagining various outcomes of a job interview to prepare for the worst

Our brains might alert us to potential dangers, making us feel on guard, even when there’s no real threat.

This is something our brains do to protect us and keep us safe. If we can rehearse and anticipate what might happen in advance and practice feeling the feelings ahead of time, the thinking is that we will be more prepared for what might happen, and it won’t feel as terrible.

However, this line of thinking can sometimes cause unnecessary suffering. Remember, not every thought is a fact. It may be an important message, a distortion, a prediction, or an assumption made without enough information.

Befriending Your Thoughts:

1. Notice What Your Mind Is Telling You

A script I like to use is “My brain is _______.”

For instance, “My brain is thinking about next week’s meeting,” or “My brain is focused on the upcoming job interview and what they might think of me.”

In psychology, this is known as mindfulness. Imagine the mind as the sky and thoughts as clouds passing by. By observing our thoughts without fixating on any one of them, we can remain composed and calm, even if our circumstances haven’t changed.

2. Approach Your Thoughts with Curiosity

Notice the thought and approach it with an attitude of curiosity about where it might be coming from. Not every thought is meant to be embraced and trusted as fact.

For example, let’s say your brain tells you that you’re unlovable and no one wants to be your friend, or that no one cares what you have to say.

Instead of leaping to conclusions and believing that no one cares and you really are unlovable, consider what might be going on within you and around you. Is it something you’ve thought before?

Engage with yourself with the same care a parent would show to a distressed child, asking questions instead of making judgments. Practicing curiosity, especially during negative emotions, requires effort but has lasting benefits.

3. Seek Evidence for Your Thoughts

If you were in a courtroom and your thought was presented as the item on trial, what would the evidence be for it and against it?

Try to genuinely come up with reasons for and against the thought and see how the evidence weighs. How do you know something is true?

4. Assess the Likelihood of the Thought Becoming Reality

Ask yourself about the actual probability of the thought’s occurrence. In the event it does happen, consider what steps you could take.

For example, what’s the likelihood that your date will stop responding? Or what’s the likelihood that your landlord won’t respond to your request? Reflecting on the likelihood and your potential response helps in grounding your perspective.

5. Reflect on Past Experiences

Think about how you handled similar situations in the past. What was helpful? Reviewing past experiences and your responses can provide insight and strategies for dealing with current thoughts.

Thoughts are not facts, even though it often feels like they are. It takes patience and practice to remind ourselves that our brains produce thoughts that may not always be true.

These techniques can help you break free from cycles of anxiety or fear, helping you feel more grounded and prepared, even in worst-case scenarios.

Seeking Help

If you’re struggling to untangle your thoughts and would like guidance, our therapists at Optimum Joy Clinical Counseling are here to support your journey. An unbiased perspective can help you identify and break free from patterns that keep you stuck so you can live a life that’s meaningful to you.

Reach out to our office to get started!

Written By

Jennifer Hu

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