Monday, March 21, 2011

Evidence on Your Radar Screen

In previous blogs I’ve talked about the automatic thoughts that we tend to attach to life situations that hit us and how those thoughts ultimately determine how we feel much of the time. When we feel a certain way, whether stressed, irritated, down, worried, low in confidence, or happy and encouraged, there is a tendency to notice and to be much more aware of the things that happen in our lives that seem to confirm how we already feel.

It’s like a radar screen that gets increasingly wider and grows more sensitive in picking up what we already believe to be true. If a person believes that people are rude and insensitive, then there is a tendency to notice and to hang onto things that seem to confirm this belief. If they feel depressed or stressed, their radar screen is sensitive to anything that happens in their day or week that feels like proof that things are stressful and depressing. If a person feels generally encouraged and happy they typically notice and hang onto life situations that confirm that there is a reason to be upbeat and to feel good.

Each blip on this sensitive radar screen then gets mentally deposited by the person, like a stone on a pile, with all of the other similar things that have hit their screen, and quickly, there is a giant and weighty pile of “evidence” that seems to confirm what the person believes to be true. Certainly most people don’t intentionally focus on and catch evidence that is depressing, stressful, anger provoking, or self-confidence reducing, but nevertheless, it still happens.

Often these piles of supposed evidence start forming in childhood based on experiences we had, how we were parented, or through the verbal messages that were modeled to us by our parents. Picture collecting hundreds or thousands of stones over the years, each one representing an example that life is stressful or depressing, or each representing something to worry about or to be irritated and angry about, or each one indicating an example that is associated with low confidence and poor self-esteem.

As the years and decades go by, this pile would be huge and the weight of the “evidence” collected by the radar screen and mentally placed onto this pile could feel indisputable. The radar screen also gets incredibly sensitive at picking up anything that could be construed as supportive evidence for this pile, so even life situations that wouldn't land on a normal sized screen can hit the far edges of the expanded radar screen and seem to confirm a person’s beliefs.

While this radar screen is getting bigger and picking up anything, supported by the supposed evidence that confirms it’s existence, the opposite process is often happening to the radar screen that could be picking up disconfirming evidence. There could be, and probably are, countless examples of things that happen in a person’s day that aren’t depressing or stressful and that do go fairly well or that are done more than adequately by the person, but these are typically missed because the radar screen that could pick up this evidence has shrunk so greatly and because very little counter evidence to the person’s beliefs has ever been collected.

It almost takes a direct bulls eye to hit this tiny radar screen, and even then, that blip of counter evidence that hits the bulls eye tends to get discounted and mentally swatted away by the person before it has the opportunity to land on a different pile. As a consequence, very little evidence makes it onto the pile that could actually convince the person that life isn’t depressing or that things often aren’t stressful, or that they aren’t terrible at everything, disliked by everyone, or always confronted with the stupidity of people in the world.

In the next blog I’m going to discuss how to change these radar screens and the piles of collected evidence. Until then, try to be very aware of the life situations that you tend to automatically notice and to hang onto. What is your radar screen most sensitive in catching? What are your beliefs about yourself, others, or life that you have collected evidence for over the years? Do you notice yourself mentally swatting away other evidence that could support a different belief?

No comments:

Post a Comment