Reality check tool

As you know by now, the main aim of happy thinking is to help one deal with unhelpful thinking patterns. A common feature of unhelpful thinking patterns is that often they are unhelpful because they distort reality. That is, such thoughts are based more on what one “imagines” the truth to be rather than what the truth actually is. 

For a moment, let’s assume that you are a judge in a court of law and that there is a person in front of you who has been accused of stealing a cake (I suppose it’s not the most serious of crimes, but this is only an example!). Now as a good and professional judge, it would be crazy for you to tell the accused, “Hey, I ‘imagine’ that you must have stolen that cake, and therefore I declare that you are guilty.” There would be an uproar in the court because one needs to judge someone based on evidence rather than mere imagination. 

Unfortunately, one’s mind can often rely on imagination rather than facts, and this can cause one to have a lot of unnecessary distress. People often make the mistake of assuming that their thoughts accurately represent reality, when actually, they often may not. This is where a tool which I call the “reality check tool”, can be very useful. With this tool, after using the pause tool to “pause” the unhelpful thought, one asks one’s mind, “How much of this thought is based on real evidence and how much of this thought is based on imagination.” To understand the reality check tool, let us continue with our example from the previous section, where Sue’s daughter was only fifteen minutes late returning home from school and she was having the unhelpful thought, “She must have met with a terrible road traffic accident”. 

So how could Sue use the reality check tool in this situation? As mentioned before, Susan’s first step would be to use the “pause tool” where she would use her internal voice to say “pause” to herself.  She then applies the reality check tool to the paused thought, and asks herself, “What actual evidence do I have that supports my thought that my daughter has had a terrible road traffic accident?”. As Susan would look for evidence, she would soon realise that she actually does not have any evidence that her daughter has met with a road traffic accident. I.e. there are no phone calls or messages, no news reports, etc at this point to indicate that something awful has happened. Rather, she would realise that she has “imagined” a thought with the worst outcome rather than having an evidence-based thought. With this realisation, Susan’s unhelpful thoughts would fade away. 

This is not to say that Susan’s thought was utterly unrealistic as after all road traffic accidents do happen. Rather, the issue is that Susan’s imagination was assuming the worst before there was actual evidence to support that view. The imagined unhelpful thought would have caused her to have unnecessary worry and possibly even panic, before being at all certain that such worry was warranted. In fact, to highlight this, let’s make our example have a happy ending. Soon after Susan uses the reality check tool, her daughter walks through the door five minutes later, saying, “Gosh there was so much traffic on the roads today our school bus got held up!”

When using the reality check tool, one must take care to only look for genuine evidence that could justify the unhelpful thought and avoid the temptation to “imagine” evidence (i.e. fake evidence!). This can happen if one’s mind is desperate to prove that the unhelpful thought is true. When using the reality check tool, it would of course be useless to compare imaginary evidence Vs imagination! 

So in summary, the reality check tool is about asking, “How much of this thought is based on real evidence and how much of this thought is based on imagination.” One will find that with unhelpful thoughts, there will be little or no evidence to support it. Once one realises that, the unhelpful thought should fade away.

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