Our thoughts and beliefs are powerful. They shape the stories we tell ourselves in our head, and thus, shape our reality.
What happens when these stories create an interpretation that causes anxiety or depression? Well, anxiety and depression happen. Fear, worry, sadness; these things can be brought on by how we interpret the events happening in our lives.
Somebody critiques our work and it initiates thoughts about how our work isn’t good enough, how embarrassed we felt to have presented something of such low quality.
Maybe you make a mistake and this causes you to fail a task. A negative belief might be that you aren’t good enough to have ever thought you could succeed in the first place.
Note that it’s not the situations themselves that cause these negative feelings. It is our interpretation of them. Similarly, however, our positive emotions can be triggered by alternative stories we tell ourselves.
Positive emotions can be triggered by alternative stories we tell ourselves.
We get goosebumps and butterflies when a pretty girl or boy brushes their arm against our body and flashes a smile. We tell ourselves they’re interested in us. Even if the reality is that they did it on accident and smiled because they were embarrassed, the story we used in our heads elicited the emotions we felt.
If we find ourselves defaulting to negative interpretations, is there a way to combat this and change our default to something more powerful?
As it turns out, yes there is. It’s called Socratic Questioning and is a strategy commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy involves altering our belief structure so we begin to tell ourselves new stories about the events happening around us.
Socratic questions are designed to challenge your story, to see if it holds up to scrutiny or if it might be wrong. That’s the challenge with these mental stories, even though they are malleable we tend to take them as gospel. Socratic questions allow you to break free from that trap and alter your beliefs.
The exercise is simple. Take a recent scenario in your life that caused you some anxiety or other negative feeling. Then, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s the evidence that your thought is true?
- If you’re wrong, what’s another way of looking at the situation?
- If you’re right, what could you do about the situation?
- What advice would you give to a friend in the same situation?
- What should you do now?
Once you’ve completed answering each question honestly, do you notice anything different about the way you feel?
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