Monday, October 18, 2010

Do You Have a Crystal Ball?

The second way many of us fallible human beings jump to conclusions is by fortune telling.  "Oh, I don't do that!  I don't have a crystal ball and try to tell people the future!"  That's what I said to myself when I first saw this, but then I got to looking into it.  Fortune Telling is forming an opinion on which you would act by predicting the future.  It is not saying, "This MIGHT happen", but rather, "I KNOW this will happen," and then acting on that "knowledge".

Here's an example of what fortune telling could look like:

Me: So, how is your dating life going?

Client: Not so good.  I'm going to break up with him.

Me: Really? What happened?

Client: Well, I know he's going to break up with me.

Me: How do you know he's going to break up with you?

Client: I just do.

Me: So what you're telling me is that you know he's going to break up with you, so you're going to break up with him first.  Seeing as you and I don't have a crystal ball that tells us what the future holds, what evidence do you have that leads you to believe that he's going to break up with you?

Client: He has never had a girlfriend past 3 months, and we're at 2 months and 25 days.  We had a big fight yesterday.

Me: Okay, so if we were gambling, we could probably make a lot of money betting that he will break up with you based on the evidence you've presented, right?

Client: Right.

Me: But since neither of us has a crystal ball that tells us for certain what the future holds, what prevents you from having an honest discussion with him about your thoughts and fears with the relationship?  What do you have to lose?

Client: I'm afraid he'll break up with me if I'm that vulnerable, and that would be terrible because it would mean that he has rejected me.

Me: Well, certainly no one enjoys being rejected. How important is this relationship to you?

Client: Very.

Me: Okay. Have you ever been rejected before?

Client: Yes.

Me: Did you survive it?

Client: Well, I'm still alive aren't I? Of course I survived!

Me: So do you think it might be worth risking rejection and vulnerability to save this very important relationship?

Client: Yeah, I think it would.

It is good to recognize when we are jumping to conclusions by fortune telling, because it can prevent us from creating self-fulfilling prophecies (SFPs). An SFP is the unintentional creation of the predicted outcome because the person predicted it.  In the example above, the client predicted that the relationship would not last past three months.  This led to the client being unwilling to be vulnerable and share her true thoughts and feelings with her boyfriend.  After closing herself off from the relationship and preemptively breaking up with him (creation of the predicted outcome), she likely would say, "See, I told you the relationship wouldn't last past three months!" An outsider can clearly see, however, that had she been open and honest with her thoughts and feelings even though she believed this to be true, the relationship might have lasted more than three months.  There might have been a different outcome.

There is nothing irrational about making an educated guess or prediction for personal guidance. It is when we become CERTAIN that our prediction WILL happen, instead of it merely being LIKELY to happen, that our thinking becomes irrational. Because we cannot accurately predict that we will even take our next breath, the only prediction that we can be CERTAIN of is that we will all one day die.

In order to avoid Fortune Telling and SFPs, make sure you are looking at your situation with all the facts, and you understand what your underlying assumptions are.  Take your time formulating your opinions and your actions.

For more on this topic, read Feel the Way You Want to Feel, No Matter What! by Aldo Pucci.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stop Jumping to Conclusions!!

Ahhhh...jumping to conclusions, or "developing an opinion about something very quickly without gathering facts" (Pucci, 2006). It's pretty fun, huh?  If you are human, you have probably done this at least once in your life. Jumping to conclusions is by definition irrational, if we define rational as passing all three rational questions. Jumping to conclusions takes place when we get tired of looking for all the facts or we don't think we have time or it would be a waste of time to find all the facts for a certain situation.

There are two main ways we fallible human beings jump to conclusions:
1. Mind Reading, or acting as if we can read someone else's mind.  Mind reading occurs when we KNOW someone is thinking a certain way, and then we act on that "knowledge" without checking it out.  If we acknowledge that someone MIGHT be thinking a certain way, that is NOT mind reading.

How to stop jumping to conclusions by mind reading:
1. Recognize that it is impossible to know for sure what someone else is thinking. We may be able to see THAT someone is thinking (with an EEG or PET scan), but we cannot see WHAT a person is thinking.  Even if we know someone very well, we cannot know for certain what they are thinking. We can try to predict what they will say or do, but we will never know what thoughts they had that led them there unless they tell us.

2. Recognize that trying to know another's thoughts is pointless.  Because in the end what matters is how someone ACTS or TREATS US, knowing their thoughts is actually futile.  For example, I can have a less than flattering thought about someone, but unless I act on that thought, they are not offended.  I can also have a thought about giving someone a card or gift, but unless I act on that thought, that person will not receive the blessing.  If you find that someone is treating you badly, instead of trying to figure out what they are thinking, talk to them about their behavior and if they would be willing to begin treating you differently.

In my next blog I will discuss fortune telling, which is the second most common way we fallible human beings jump to conclusions.

For more in-depth discussion and illustration, pick up a copy of Aldo Pucci's The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life, no matter what!.

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life, no matter what! New York: iUniverse, Inc.