How To Not Let Irrational Thinking Ruin Your Whole Life
A few weeks ago, I had signed my family up for an organized hike at a local nature center. I was pleased with myself for having come up with a nice way for my husband and me to spend some quality time outside with the kids, while avoiding the ever-present draw of their electronic devices.
But as we were pulling out of the driveway, one of the kids – the one capable of throwing a tantrum unlike anything I ever thought was humanly possible – started screaming her head off crying that she didn’t want to go. She got so hysterical that my husband stopped the car, prepared to turn back. But then she started screaming that she did NOT want to go back home, so he kept on driving while I contorted myself this way and that to be able to hold her hand in the backseat.
She kept on wailing for pretty much the entire 20-minute drive, but once we got there, we were able to hug it out and calm her down enough to give this event a shot. And guess what? She had a great time, as did the rest of us. We walked through the woods, learned about plants and animals, totally kicked ass at the shelter-building challenge, and sipped some warm cider afterwards with the park rangers.
How Irrational Thinking Can Ruin Your Life
Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) tend to ruminate and process negative events more deeply than non-HSPs. HSPs also tend to have stronger emotional reactions to negative events. I’m a typical HSP in this regard.
Now, add to the mix my background growing up in a dysfunctional family, which left me with low self esteem and the tendency to always blame myself for everything, and you have the makings of a perfectionist who has an outsized reaction whenever things don’t go just so.
Once my perfect vision of a peaceful family outing was shattered on the way to the nature center, it would have been very easy for me to get overwhelmed with emotion and get stuck ruminating about my daughter’s tantrum.
- “What am I doing wrong?”
- “I must be a terrible mother.”
- “What’s the point in even trying when something always happens to ruin everything?”
This is the way my mood has spiraled out of control more times than I care to admit. A negative event that for someone else might just mean one grey cloud on an otherwise clear sky darkens up my entire world as if someone switched the sun off. The whole day ruined.
But on that day it didn’t.
How To Not Let Irrational Thinking Ruin Your Life By Asking This ONE Question
On that particular occasion, my whole day wasn’t ruined because of one very simple question I’ve learned to start asking myself:
- How bad is this really? What percent good? What percent bad?
Including the time driving there and back, our outing was three hours long. Of that, 20 minutes was bad and the rest – 160 minutes – was good. So that gives me 89% good and 11% bad.
Not so terrible, right? 🙂 Since anything being 100% good is pretty much an impossibility, pushing on 90% is virtually as good as it ever gets!
Although my immediate reaction to anything negative is a strong urge to throw an emotional tantrum that rivals those my kids put on, I find that taking a step back and literally calculating percentages like this often helps me put things into perspective.
What percent good? What percent bad?
It Works The Other Way Too!
Often things are not as bad as they initially seem, but my inability to think rationally and put my objective hat on has gotten me in trouble the other way around too.
There have been times when I’ve overcompensated for my negative bias and tried to be the perfect little positive thinker, always looking for the silver lining.
But what I’ve found is that exaggerating the positive will backfire just as surely as exaggerating the negative. Sometimes things really are 80% bad or 90% bad. And not making changes because you are hanging on to the little bit of good that’s there will just result in a life that feels shitty most of the time.
Like when you hang on to the job you hate, because it’s not all bad. Or you won’t cut the draining relative out of your life, because, you know, there is that one good memory from 15 Christmases ago.
If you want to lead a life that feels okay much of the time, it’s crucial to notice BOTH the good and bad.
Notice the good, so you can appreciate it and savior it.
Notice the bad, so you can do something about it.