Blog Post: Are You Commanding Your Thoughts, or Falling Prey to Negative Thoughts Due to Our Stay Home Orders?

Linda Elder
Apr 06, 2020 • 4y ago
Are You Commanding Your Thoughts, or Falling Prey to Negative Thoughts Due to Our Stay Home Orders?

{"ops":[{"insert":"As many of us are required to stay at home (due to the Corona pandemic) and are therefore not able to enjoy our usual ability to move about, doing the things we want to do outside our homes to keep ourselves occupied and amused, many people are becoming even more irrational than they may have been before. Domestic abuse rates are increasing, articles are being written on how to stay sane during this time. People seem largely without internal resources of critical thought to deal with the situation, even in the short run, much less the long term.\n\tOne of the important truths that Jean Piaget, the noted child psychologist, discovered about children is that they overgeneralize their immediate feelings. If something good happens to them, the whole world looks good to them. If something bad happens to them, the whole world looks bad to them. He called this phenomenon egocentric immediacy. What Piaget did not emphasize, however, is that the same reaction patterns are found in much adult thinking. It is fair to say that everyone has some difficulty putting the ups and downs of daily life into a long-range perspective. Given the strength of our immediate (emotional) reactions, it is not easy to keep things in proper perspective.\n\tOnce we begin to interpret situations or events in our life as negative, we also tend to generalize that negativity and even, on occasion, to allow it to cast a gloom over our whole life. A broad-based pessimism or a foolish optimism can come to permeate our thinking when negative or positive events happen to us. We move rapidly from thinking of one or two events in our lives as negative (or positive) to thinking of everything in our lives as negative (or positive). Egocentric negative thinking easily leads to indulgent self-pity, and egocentric positive thinking easily leads to an unrealistic state of complacent comfort.\n\tConsider an everyday problem for many people who tend to see the world in largely negative terms. They wake up in the morning and have to deal with a few unexpected minor problems. As the day progresses, and as they deal with more “problems,” everything in their lives appears negative. The snowball of bad things happening gets bigger and bigger as the day passes. By the end of the day, they are unable to see any positive things in their lives. Their thinking (usually tacit of course) is something like this:\n\n\t\tEverything looks bad. Life isn’t fair. Nothing good ever happens to me. I always have to deal with problems. Why does everything bad happen to me?\n\t\nControlled by these thoughts, they lack the ability to counteract unbridled negativity with rational thoughts. They can’t see the many good things in their lives. Their egocentric mind is shielding them from the full range of facts that would change their way of thinking so they could see things in a more realistic and, in this case, a more positive light.\n\nStrategic Thinking Using the Tools of Critical Thinking\nIf you intervene with rational thoughts at the point at which egocentric negativity begins, before it completely pervades the mind’s functioning, you have a better chance of reducing or overthrowing it. The first step requires you to become intimately familiar with the phenomenon of egocentric immediacy. Then you should begin to identify instances of it in your own life as well as in the lives of those around you.\n\tThe second step requires you to develop a rich and comprehensive list of the facts of your life. It is important to develop this list not when you are in the throes of an egocentric “fit” but, instead, when you are viewing the world from a rational perspective.\n\tYou also want to develop a long-range perspective to call upon when necessary to give the proper weight to individual events, whether positive or negative. You must establish in your mind what your most important values are. You must frame in your mind a long-range historical perspective. You must bring those values and this perspective strongly before your mind when less important values and the distortions of egocentric immediacy begin to dominate your thoughts and feelings. When you have a well-established “big picture” in our mind, what are in effect small events will remain small, not blown out of proportion.\n\tWhen you perceive that your thinking is tending toward egocentric immediacy, you can actively undermine it through comprehensive rational thinking. This involves reasoning with yourself, pointing out flaws in your thinking, identifying and presenting relevant information you are ignoring, pointing out information you are distorting, checking your assumptions, and tracking the implications of your thinking.\n\tIn short, by developing a deep and comprehensive “big picture” in your mind, by keeping this comprehensive view as much as possible in the foreground of your thinking in daily life, you can minimize your own tendency toward egocentric immediacy. You can become skilled in recognizing what is truly small and large in our life. You can chart our course more effectively, navigating through passing storms and deceptively quiet seas alike.\n\tTry this activity to get better command of negative, snow-ball type thinking in which your thinking races to overgeneralize:\n\t \n\tThink of a situation you were in recently in which you felt and intense negative emotion that generated a chain reaction of further negative states in your mind, leading to a generalized feeling of depression. At that moment, your life looked bleak and unforgiving. Figure out the “big picture” thinking that was missing from your mind as you fell prey to egocentric immediacy.\n \nComplete these statements:\n\n1.     The objective situation was as follows:\n2.     I responded irrationally to the situation by . . .\n3.     I felt these negative emotions:\n4.     The “big picture” thinking that I needed but didn’t develop is something like the following:\n5.     The information I was failing to consider in my thinking was . . .\n6.     I can best avoid this situation in the future by . . .\n7.     I now realize . . .\n \nAdapted from: "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Critical Thinking Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, 3rd ed"},{"insert":", by Richard Paul and Linda Elder, 2012, Rowman & Littlefield.\n \n"}]}

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