Friday, August 27, 2010

Discounting the Positive

Discounting the positive is a mental mistake that is very similar to the mental filter (Pucci, 2006). When people discount the positive, they are often believing some sort of negative thought, and any evidence that comes up to the contrary somehow "doesn't count".

For example, let's say a woman believes that she is bad.  After defining the word "bad" to mean that she is innately evil, is worthless, and has nothing good to bring to society, I bring up some points to counter her thinking.  Bringing up the fact that the woman has a stable job where she is in charge of several departments yields a response such as, "Yeah, but that doesn't count because they felt sorry for me and kept promoting me even though I'm bad." Bringing up the point that the woman has never harmed anyone, much less murdered them, she replies, "I haven't yet, but I could." Confronting her with the fact that she has a family who loves, supports, and needs her, she replies, "I will probably end up hurting them one day too."  This woman is discounting the positive evidence against her negative belief.  When she does this, she depresses herself and makes herself quite anxious.

How can we make sure we are not making this mental mistake?
1. To think rationally, we must base our thinking on fact. This means all the facts, not just the ones that we like or that fit with our current beliefs (Pucci, 2006). 

2. Ask questions that might disconfirm the already held belief (Roberto, 2009).

3. Decide to entertain competing beliefs (Roberto, 2009).

4. Probe the opinion of experts.  If an expert agrees with the already believed thought, ask him or her why they agree with you and what evidence they have that supports or refutes your belief (Roberto, 2009).

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a  healthy, happy matter what! New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Roberto, M. A. (2009). The Art of Critical Decision Making Parts I & II. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Are You “In Love”? You May be Making a Mental Mistake!

According to Aldo Pucci (2006), MA, DCBT, and author of The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Mental Mistake #3 is the mental filter, or, as professor Michael A. Roberto (2009) of Bryant University calls it, the confirmation bias.  The mental filter is described as acknowledging only information that is consistent with already believed thoughts.  In plain English, it’s like going through life with blinders on. 

Have you ever heard the expression “Love is blind”?  Well, that concept actually has some merit to it.  When we are in love, we often believe that the person we are in love with is perfect for us.  We will often overlook, downplay, or even change evidence to the contrary until it fits with what we already have our minds set to think.  Later on, after we’ve been married for a while, the blinders come down and we begin to tell each other, “You’ve changed!” While it’s possible that we’ve changed, it could also be that the blinders we had while we were dating have started to come down, and we’re finally seeing the other person as they actually are.

I’ve heard this mistake used in several ways.  Some people will believe that they are stupid (despite evidence that they are of at least average intelligence), others that they are worthless (despite evidence of their value), others that they are bad (despite evidence that they are no worse than any other fallible human being), others that their lives are no longer worth living (despite evidence that their unpleasant circumstances are merely temporary), others that their boyfriend/girlfriend is so wonderful and perfect (despite others warning of their criminal, murderous history), others that the Japanese would never bomb Pearl Harbor (Wohlstetter, 1962) (despite evidence that they were on their way), and others that they are the greatest thing that ever happened to the world (despite evidence that they are no better than the above average fallible human being).  When they present their evidence for these beliefs, I often chuckle to myself, because I see the mental filter in action!

What can we do about the mental filter?
1. Look at and acknowledge ALL information about a specific belief or situation, not just that information that confirms your belief.  Intentionally look for evidence that supports alternative views.  Identify a thought or belief that passes the Three Rational Questions but that you may have difficulty believing. Pretend that you are an attorney, and in one week you must present evidence that will convince a jury that the new thought is true.  Refuse to make up evidence and provide examples from your life that actually happen.  Write down all your evidence.

2. Acknowledge that you can be incorrect in your thinking. List the things you think about the world, yourself, and others that you HOPE are incorrect. Now, look for evidence to support the possibility that you are, in fact, incorrect in thinking these thoughts.
Being aware of the mental filter will help you in many areas of your life, including your love life.  Now, go out there and prove yourself wrong!

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.

Roberto, M. A. (2009). The Art of Critical Decision Making Parts I & II. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.

Wohlstetter, R. (1962). Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.