My 8 year old is an inquisitive little guy. He wonders about all sorts of things, questioning everything about the world. You know, the usual questions we ask ourselves daily; do millipedes have hearts? How do horses kiss? Why are walls on buildings always covered in 'robbers writing'?
Mostly I fling his curiosities right back at him and ask him what he thinks. I do this because it's good for kids to develop their own critical thinking skills, but I do it mainly because I usually don't know the answers.
His inquiring little mind got me thinking about how our own adult minds work. How most of us go about thinking what we think, without actually thinking anything of it.
But, what if we’re getting our thinking wrong, and then going about our day ‘being’ wrong? Chances are, we are to some degree, and causing ourselves unnecessary stress and anxiety whilst doing it. In most cases, things are actually going a lot better than we think they are.
Human beings are thinking creatures. We think, we plan and we worry. We can have thousands of thoughts a day going through our heads. This is what makes us such powerful creatures; we have the ability to be present in the now, and use the information about the past to predict our future.
Although this is enormously useful for us, it also means the way we think often comes at a cost. All of us have automatic thinking style and some of them are not particularly helpful. Not questioning the way we think about the world could be doing us a disservice. Maybe if we had a different thinking style, we could be a lot happier, or more confident, or more successful.
Some of our thoughts we intentionally have, like when we deliberately try and remember what ingredients we need to cook a meal tonight. Or what we need to do at work today. Whilst other thoughts are automatic, like we when judge other people or ourselves too quickly. Or we entertain the ‘what if’s’ and worries that aren’t real. And this is where the trouble often lies.
Often when working with individuals in therapy, people work on changing the way they feel by questioning and challenging their thoughts, overcoming any biases in them. Just because we think it, doesn’t mean it’s right. And perhaps if we thought about our thinking a bit more, we would come up with a better alternative.
We might catastrophise and blow things out of proportion, viewing every problem as near the end of the world. Maybe we magnify the positive attributes of other people and minimise our own too much. Maybe our thoughts are too black & white. Maybe we personalise too much and blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong, when it's probably got nothing to do with us.
Thoughts are not facts. Just because we think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.
So perhaps questioning our thoughts a little more could start making us feel a little less anxious and a lot happier. Often another viewpoint can be useful, especially when it’s our own. We might find we come up with a better answer to our original.
Questioning can often result in us finding out some fascinating information we never thought possible. Like millipedes actually having hearts, and how horses kiss in a sloppy, toothy kind of-way. Who would have thought it?
As for the reasons behind ‘robbers’ writing’ on walls? Well, that’s a whole other article.