It is said that the average human has over 6,000 thoughts daily. Truth be told, not all those contain facts. So much is assumptions. However, any thought we hold on to for long becomes a strong belief, that we almost cannot think anything contrary.
This is where the need for criticizing one’s thoughts comes to play. To criticize your thoughts means to take them through a process of trial and cross-examination, to find fault in them. While criticizing your thoughts can make you find out if the thought is true or not, the approach is not to find the truth.
You approach them intending to find inconsistencies and faults with them. Criticizing your thoughts is an important aspect of life and if mastered, can give you a great deal of mental and emotional well-being.
For instance, aside from mental stresses and anxieties that are clinical and require pills, all other anxieties like congruent depression arise from certain beliefs and thought patterns we hold about our lives and the situation around us. A counseling theory RET, calls them irrational thoughts. As long as these irrational thoughts remain, individuals cannot live healthy lives (psychologically).
So how do you criticize your thoughts?
1. Seek proofs that support whether the thought is true or not
Let’s say the thought you are having is “James does not like me.” The first approach is to seek proofs that support the fact and proofs that are against it.
Criticism is not falsehood. This means you’re not trying to prove that something is wrong which is actually right. So if James truly does not like you, then you shouldn’t deceive yourself into saying he likes you in the name of criticizing your thought.
You might want to do it this way:
What are the signs a person will show if they like someone? How many of them is James showing? What are the signs of dislike? How many of them are with James?
From these, you can begin to juxtapose and weigh which proofs or signs projected are actually valid.
2. Picture several contexts to see if the thought still applies or not
You might call a thought, which is actually right, false if you keep looking at just one context. So you must bring the thought to different scenarios and if your conclusion is still the same then you can agree with it.
Your thought might be “I don’t like myself”. If you look at yourself based on only one aspect, say your social life, you might conclude that you truly don’t like yourself because of some things not going the way you want, but if you bring your career, your family, your finance, and so on into the picture, you might see that you do like yourself.
So the thought is no longer that you don’t like yourself. You can then proceed from there to find what it is since you’ve found out what it’s not. Same way, if you’re looking at James does not like me from just one context, you may have generalized. But doing this will increase the number of proofs you will have for and against the thought, and your conclusion can be more valid.
3. Find out the reasons behind the claim you have discovered to be more true
The fact that you have gotten more proof against or for a claim does not settle that it is false or true. You should take your criticism further by trying to understand the reason why that is so. If you don’t like yourself, why is it?
The same way you can look at the windscreen of a car and think it is fragile because it is glass, but trying to understand will help you take your criticism further. The obvious is that it is glass, and that is enough proof. But digging deeper, you will understand that although it is glass, it has a different makeup that has made it not to be fragile.
Although you might tick all the proofs that James does not like you, trying to understand why those proofs manifest or why he doesn’t like you might give you a new outlook. Also, you might discover that you like yourself but don’t like the response you’re getting from people.
4. Keep asking why until you find the root fact
After you have found those reasons, find the reason behind the reasons again. For example,
I think I don’t have anything to offer– Why?
Because other people are offering more than I do– Why?
Because they are more skilled– Why?
Because they have trained themselves– Why haven’t I trained myself?
From this little questioning, I’ve been able to see that the focus has changed already from lack of having what to offer to lack of training. If you continue the conversation of asking why you can then understand your thoughts better and live a more healthy life with a better understanding.
Asking why is a theory that has been proven over the years to be effective.
Irrational thoughts are the cause of many psychological issues but understanding those thoughts is the key to freedom from them. The ability to criticize your thoughts and hold onto only rational or true thoughts will benefit your mental well-being a great deal.
To criticize your thoughts, you must Seek proofs that support whether the thought is true or not, Picture several contexts to see if the thought still applies or not, Find out the reasons behind the claim you have discovered to be more true, and Keep asking why until you find the root fact.
- Challenging your thoughts: Are they helpful? Welldoing.org. Retrieved 19 April 2023, from https://welldoing.org/article/challenging-your-thoughts-are-they-helpful.
- Voloh, I., Bhattacharya, S., Gerstenberg, T., & Tenenbaum, J. B. (2020). Causal learning with intervention in continuous time: the case of hidden confounding. Nature Communications, 11(1), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17255-9.
- Wikipedia contributors. “Five whys.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 April 2023. Web. 19 April 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_whys.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.