All of our thoughts originate around goals. Each and every one of us has goals for what we want to happen in our lives. Things we desire in order to feel content. We want our kids to grow up happy. We want to find love. We want to be liked and admired by others. We may desire to be wealthy, or to travel around and experience the world. Some of these goals are almost purely instinctual; others are of our own creation.
Then something happens.
An activating event occurs, something that seemingly interferes with those goals and desires. You lose your job. Someone insults you. Your child is abused. A family member dies. Your boyfriend breaks up with you. All of these are examples of activating events which will cause you grief, because the events are believed to interfere with your goals or disrupt your livelihood.
So you proceed to form beliefs about this event. This is horrible. Life will never be the same again. My child has been traumatized. Her innocence stolen. Oh Lord, how are we ever going to get through this? These beliefs are usually impulsive, and forged from the numerous factors that influence our perception, as discussed in earlier chapters. Some of our beliefs about the event may be rational, but most are largely irrational. For instance, it’s rational to want to shield your child from abuse or keep them from harm. But it’s irrational to believe that they will never be harmed in their life, or that it’s horrible and devastating that such an event has occurred.
Finally, those beliefs lead to psychological consequences, whether healthy or unhealthy. Consequences are the interpretations we form about how this event will affect our lives and alter our goals. It’s our resulting decision about what this event will be, and how it will matter. It’s also what determines our emotional state going forward, and whether or not this event will cause you or your child any further suffering. These are the ABCs of thought. To review, an Activating event causes us to form Beliefs about that event, which ultimately leads to psychological Consequences for you and your child.
Yet during all three stages of this process reside the possibility for errors in thinking that will lead us astray. Sometimes the very goals we start with can be irrational. For instance, a person may believe (quite incorrectly) that having money will produce happiness. So the goal upon which he bases his entire belief system around is itself irrational. The next stage, beliefs, is where most errors in cognition occur. We’re regularly making mountains out of molehills, inferring meaning where none belongs, and otherwise feeding flawed logic into our thought systems. We’re often completely wrong about how much an event actually matters. Finally, we’re constantly off on the consequences. Things go better than planned, what we thought was a setback turned out to be an opportunity which opened a different door that led to something good, and we’re surprised to find both pleasure and pain in spots we never thought they’d be.
The end result is that our thoughts often betray us, leading us into flawed conclusions that proceed to drive us mad. If you’ve read the first half of this book, you should have a basic understanding about how our psychological states can become distorted. Now, let’s explore some of the specific traps people fall into, so that you can recognize such mental errors and do your best to avoid them.
This material is an excerpt from the eBook The Resilient Mind. Get the full book packed with tons of other helpful psychology information for just $7.99. All proceeds from your purchase go to help kids in need!