Consider this, what your mind perceives becomes your reality. This might sound like a cliché, or even like a simplistic statement, but it is actually quite important. Why does it matter? Well, because you may not always perceive the world as it is, and yet you go about assuming your perception is correct and therefore that it is reality. We have tens of thousands of thoughts that cross our mind each day, and there is no way we are examining and verifying them all. But each one of these thoughts has an impact on us. Our thoughts, which represent our perceptions and associations to a situation, ultimately dictate how we react emotionally to said event. Based on our emotional reaction we then act out one or several behaviors. Those behaviors will impact our situation and our world and thus lead to new thoughts. What this means it that we react to the world as we see it and not necessarily as it is and in doing so we shape our own and other people’s lives.
Here is another point to consider, when we think about something, not only are we generating an emotional response to our thoughts, but we are also generating a physiological response to them. This is why when we think of something stressful our body responds with physical expressions of stress (tension, rapid heart rate, irregular breathing, cramped stomach). In that moment your mind is picturing your boss yelling at you, your body is actually responding as if the event were actually occurring – what your mind perceives becomes your reality.
What can you do with this information? First of all, no one is saying that you should examine and evaluate every single one of your thoughts; I’m not even sure it would be possible. What you can do with this information, however, is become more conscious of your cognitive state (thoughts) when you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unhappy or disconnected. By taking the time check in with yourself and look at your thoughts you actually get an opportunity to correct faulty, potentially stressful assumptions. There are so many times we walk around thinking: “I have no time!” Or “Nothing is working out today!” Or “What if [insert catastrophic outcome or scenario]?” What you now can realize is that each one of those thoughts impacts you directly. When you tell yourself you have no time, you feel stressed and potentially helpless because you believe you don’t have the option to do what you might need or want to do. The reality, once evaluated, may be that you don’t have enough time to do everything you want/need to do and therefore need to prioritize. Although that can still be stressful, it is far less dire of a state that one in which you have NO TIME. “Nothing is working out today!” is similarly stressful. Can you imagine a day where that statement were factually true? Me neither, because it is truly impossible. Again, though, imagine the impact on your mind and body if it were true that nothing was working out, nothing at all. The hopelessness and helplessness that would stem form that would be overwhelming. You may think that when these kinds of thoughts cross your mind you insert an automatic caveat, but you don’t and you pay an emotional and physiological toll. The “what ifs” are some of the worst; worriers are really suffering all the time. They don’t need their worst case scenarios to come true to live through the distress and anguish of those situations.
So next time you catch yourself saying “what if” or worrying about something that has yet to happen, or next time you notice that you are feeling down take the time to check your thoughts, focus on the here and now if you are worrying about the what ifs, and make sure that your perception is as close to reality as possible.