The following article will
show you a method you can use to experience more happiness in
your life. The technique is simple once you understand it. You
will feel better. You will feel less negative emotion and more
positive emotion. Read on...
YOU'VE SEEN OPTICAL ILLUSIONS. They always
show up in psychology textbooks. Theres a famous one that
looks like an old witch or a young lady, depending on how you
look at it. Theres the simple three dimensional box
look at it one way and it seems youre looking up at it;
look at it another way and it seems youre looking down
on it. There is a new kind of optical illusion, generated by
computers, that give you the impression youre looking into
a three dimensional object when your eyes refocus, even though
at first it looks like a flat, random pattern.
Psychology students are often introduced
to optical illusions, not because most psychology students become
eye surgeons, but because the illusions arent created by
our eyes; theyre created by our brains. It has nothing
to do with your childhood or your personality. Everyone with
a normal brain sees the same illusion because its caused
by the way our brains are designed. The specific design of the
human brain is very good for some things, and not very good for
other things. It is by no means perfect. For example, youve
probably seen the optical illusion of the two lines next to each
other, one with the arrows pointing out, one with the arrows
The lines are the same length, but it doesnt
look that way. Even when you know theyre the same length
even when you go get a ruler and measure them they
still look like different lengths. What youre experiencing
is a flaw in the way your brain perceives.
Our brains are not designed perfectly.
We dont perceive perfectly and we dont think with
perfect reason. We can call our mistakes in thinking thoughtical
not positive thinking
All human brains tend to make certain mistakes
in the same way. In this article, well explore some of
these common mistakes. There is no technique in this article.
Im simply trying to show you why its in your best
interest to be sceptical of your own mind. That may seem like
a sadistic goal, but it isnt. The feeling of certainty
has caused more problems for people than skepticism ever did.
When youre arguing with your spouse,
the thing that keeps the anger intense is: youre both certain
youre right. If each of you had a little more skepticism
about your own ability to remember and reason, it would be easier
to work out your differences.
The scientific method has made so much
progress because the theories are provisional good until
something better comes along. When a scientist comes up with
an idea of how things work, she doesnt call it a Law or
a Fact, she calls it a theory. And she fully expects other scientists
who come after her to test it and improve it (or trash it if
it turns out to be wrong). That attitude allows progress. And
its extremely hard to do. A scientist has to impose the
discipline on herself, just as you and I would be wise to do,
to prevent herself from thinking of something as a truth.
We have a tendency to come to a conclusion
and then close our minds on the matter. Probably for most of
our evolutionary history this tendency served us well. Now we
are rarely in a life-or-death, you-must-make- a-decision-now
situation, and its usually best to hold off from drawing
a conclusion. This has to be done deliberately, however, because
your brain just naturally clamps down on the theories you come
up with (or get from others) and labels them Facts.
Cover your left eye and hold your face
close to the screen (or the paper if you've printed this out,
and look at the X. As you slowly pull away from the screen, at
some point the 0 will disappear. Or cover your right eye and
look at the 0, and pull away, and the X will disappear.
YOU HAVE A blind spot in each eye where
the bundles of nerve fibers go back into your brain. But I want
you to notice something: you dont see the blind spot. It
doesnt show up like a dark, empty spot. Your brain fills
in the emptiness.
In the same way, when there are things
you dont know, your brain fills it in, giving you the feeling
that nothing is missing. In other words, when you feel certain,
it doesnt really mean anything. Your feeling of certainty
often doesnt necessarily have any relationship to your
actual correctness or knowledge. Your brain produces that feeling
of certainty at the drop of a hat because its wired up
to do so.
improve your life with this
This tendency to come to a conclusion quickly
and to feel certain about it even when were wrong is compounded
by some other thoughtical illusions. For example, in numerous
experiments, researchers have found that our brains automatically
seek evidence to confirm (rather than disconfirm) an already
existing conclusion whether we have any personal stake
in it or not.
When you allow yourself to come to the
conclusion that you arent very organized, for example,
youll see and remember everything you do that confirms
your conclusion even if you dont want it to be true (and
ignore the times you were well-organized because they
dont confirm anything; they disconfirm). When you decide
your spouse is a slob, youll notice and remember (clearly)
all the times when your spouse acted like a slob, and youll
ignore or explain away all the times when your spouse acts neatly.
Premature conclusions especially
negative conclusions alter your perception and your reason
along those lines. And telling other people makes it even worse.
In one experiment, people were asked to
determine the length of a line. One group was told to decide
it in their heads; another group was told to write it on a Magic
Pad (those pads for children that erase when you lift up the
sheet) and then erase it before anyone saw it; and a third group
was told to write their conclusions on a piece of paper, sign
it, and give it to the researcher. Then the subjects were given
information indicating their first conclusion was wrong, and
they were given an opportunity to change their conclusions. Those
who decided in their heads changed their conclusions the easiest;
those who wrote it on the Magic Pad were more reluctant to change
their minds; and those who declared their conclusion publicly
were convinced their first conclusion was correct and were unwilling
to change their minds.
Their feeling of certainty was an illusion;
it wasnt related to the correctness of their conclusions.
It was being influenced by another factor, in this case, how
public they had made their conclusions.
Thoughtical illusions are flaws in your
brain. You cant get rid of them, but you can work around
them if you know they exist. If you know you tend to come
to a conclusion too quickly, then you can slow yourself down
when you find yourself concluding something. Just the fact that
you know your feeling of certainty might not mean anything
just that understanding will allow you to place less confidence
in your conclusions. When your conclusion is making you unhappy,
your skepticism can make you feel better and act more sanely.
Another aspect of the tendency to come
to a conclusion too quickly is our tendency to generalize from
too little information. One of the greatest things about your
mind is its ability to generalize: to see a pattern from only
a few examples. Little Johnny sees the flames in the gas heater
and touches it. Ouch! From only one or two such experiences even
a child can generalize: Every time I touch that heater,
I will burn my hand.
Your ability to generalize allows you to
make your actions more effective because it allows you to predict
what will happen. But our tendency to generalize is so pervasive
that we sometimes overgeneralize, and this gives us unnecessary
limitations and unnecessary misery. Little Johnny may avoid touching
the heater even when its off on and there is no danger
of being burned. He has overgeneralized and it limits him unnecessarily.
one source of negative thinking
Have you ever heard these (or made statements
like these yourself?):
It doesnt do any good to try.
Women are too sensitive.
People cant change.
Men are pigs.
Politicians are all crooked.
Our situation is hopeless.
Im not that kind of person.
Its a crazy world.
Human beings are a violent species.
ANY OF THESE generalizations, with enough
qualifications, might have some validity. But as they stand,
every one of the statements is an overgeneralization. The ones
thatll really make a difference to you in your daily life,
though, are the ones you make when youre experiencing dysphoria.
Ill tell you why in a few minutes.
Thoughtical illusion number three is that
some things are more noticeable than others, so they register
in your memory more clearly and strongly. For example, lets
say your child is goofing around and breaks a vase. All the memories
of similar times when he goofed around and broke something come
easily to mind. All the times he was careful and didnt
break anything dont come to mind, because when he doesnt
break anything, what is there to notice?
Another thoughtical illusion is our human
tendency to think in all-or-nothing, black-or-white, one-extreme-
or-the-other terms. It shows up in hundreds of different ways,
and it will be especially apparent (if youre looking out
for it) when youre experiencing dysphoria (unhappiness).
Sometimes one-extreme-or-the-other thinking
causes dysphoria. For example, Jeff thinks if he isnt a
millionaire, hes a failure. Itll make him feel bad
if he isnt already a millionaire. If Becky thinks she must
be either her ideal weight or shes a fat slob, the extremist
thinking will cause her misery when shes not at her ideal
Not many issues are truly cut-and-dried.
But thinking in an all-or-nothing way makes it easier to think
about things. You can separate issues cleanly, and then simply
position yourself on one side or the other. Its a way to
simplify an issue. But reality is full of shades of gray, so
although youve made your task easier, youve increased
your chances of being wrong. Its like what the congressman
said on the issue of whiskey:
If you mean the demon drink that poisons
the mind, pollutes the body, desecrates family life, and inflames
sinners, then I am against it. But if you mean the elixir of
Christmas cheer, the shield against winter chill, the taxable
potion that puts needed funds into public coffers to comfort
little crippled children, then Im for it. This is my position
and I will not compromise.
THERE'S HARDLY AN issue that isnt
like that. But the way our brains are designed keeps pulling
us to one side or the other. Our brains polarize issues. It would
be in our best interest to avoid getting pulled to one side of
an issue, although this is admittedly very difficult to do. But
if you arent perfect at doing it, the effort is still worth
your while. Just because you arent perfect at it doesnt
mean its a complete waste of time.
The last thoughtical illusion is that dysphoria
itself warps your perception. Research shows that when someone
is in a bad mood, hes more likely to believe negative statements
about himself, he remembers more times he was punished for failure
and remembers fewer times of being rewarded for succeeding, and
when you flash two pictures at the same time (one to each eye
with a divider between the eyes), hell see the negative
picture but not the positive picture more often when hes
feeling bad than when he feels good.
In other words, feelings affect your perception
in a way that reinforces the already existing mood.
And each emotion warps your perception
in its own way. When you feel angry, you tend to see the world
in terms of enemies and allies, and youre more sensitive
to trespasses or what could be remotely construed as trespasses.
When youre experiencing anxiety or
worry, you tend to see the world in terms of threat and danger.
Youre more likely to notice potential dangers; more likely
to see what might go wrong, and more likely to interpret what
you see as dangerous, even when it isnt.
In depression, youre attuned to loss.
You see what you had once and is now gone. Youre more likely
to doubt your abilities and your chances of success. You feel
helpless, and you notice all the things about the world that
seem against you, and you dont notice your own strengths
or the circumstances that might work in your favor.
An emotion affects what you see and exaggerates
what you see in the direction of the emotion. When youre
angry, for instance, youre likely to take an innocent remark
someone made and read into it an insult or a threat. When youre
anxious, you see what might go wrong and consider it quite possible
even when the chances of it going wrong are extremely remote.
When you feel depressed, you remember all the things in your
life youve lost, and you remember them easily, and you
forget all youve gained.
When you feel bad, things arent as
bad as they seem. Its just a thoughtical illusion.
When you know how your brain makes mistakes,
you can watch out for it. You cant fix it, but you can
learn to work around it. Like someone who is blind in one eye,
you can learn to compensate for it. I urge you to go through
a mental checklist especially when you feel dysphoric:
Have I jumped to a conclusion too
Have I placed too much confidence in a mere theory?
Am I thinking its one-extreme-or-the-other?
Have I overgeneralized?
How is my dysphoria coloring my perception?
ANY TIME YOU ask those questions when youre
feeling bad, youre probably going to find two or three
thoughtical illusions messing up your thinking. Suddenly becoming
aware of them can return you to sanity and evaporate the bad
feeling. And your improved mood wont be any illusion!