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Are Your Thoughts Fact or Fiction?

anxiety bad worry fear how overthinking starts Oct 30, 2022

If I make a mistake, I’ll be fired.


This statement is not a fact. One mistake does not warrant being fired. Of course, you could argue that this is true if the error was egregious enough or the environment is cutthroat.  But when your brain brings this fear up, have you made an obvious mistake?  Or is it more likely to pop up when you realize your email has a typo or missed a deadline?


The number one job of our brain is to keep us safe.  It will do this at all costs.  It will compromise your joy, happiness, and pleasure for safety.   It takes other parts of our brains to override this threat system hell-bent on keeping us safe.  The threat system is the part of the brain consistently suggests a mistake could lead to being fired.   Because when that fear is present, it can lead us to overwhelm and overachieve.  You stay past quitting time.  You work on weekends. You work through your lunch break.  Perhaps all of these are true for you.  It’s driven by the fear that you must not make an error.   


However, when I ask the women I work with to tell me the actual disciplinary steps in their jobs, it includes more than one step.  Often there is a warning, a second warning, a third, and up to unending warnings.  This is usually followed by a PIP (performance improvement plan).  And then, even then, it might not be a firing yet.   So when pushed, they know that a mistake doesn’t equal job loss.  MosFactaces of employment will try and find ways to keep you, not fire you, given the state of employment vacancies.


Cognitive dissonance is a situation where you feel something profoundly but intellectually can describe a completely different reality.  We can use this cognitive dissonance to play a game called Fact or Fiction.  I ask my clients to play it with me and play it in their own lives.  Once you get the hang of the game, you’ll laugh at the hilarious stories your brain tells you.  It may be hard to believe, but your brain's fictional stories won’t be so serious.


Here are the rules of the game.  Whenever you think, you ask yourself, “Is this FACT or FICTION”?  Every idea can be included in this game.  It’s a great practice to use it on everyday thoughts, not just the big heavy ones like getting fired for making a mistake.


“I’m going to run out of time.”  Fact or Fiction?


This is an example of a thought that might pop up as you go about your day.  It will help you pause and reflect if you have time to complete the task or not.  The answer might be FACT - I need 2hrs to complete it, and I only have 30 minutes.  The answer might be FICTION - I feel rushed, but if I focus, I can complete it in the allotted time.   There isn’t a right or wrong answer.  It’s about getting familiar with your thoughts and reflecting on them.


In this example, if you answered Fact.  YoFactn, now decide if you want to keep this thought or change it.  Running out of time emphasizes the deficit.  With the time I have available, I can get about half of it done.  I’ll need to schedule a time to complete the second half.  It’s less judgemental and more observational.  Just because we have a thought doesn’t mean it’s the thought we have to have.  


“I must have done something wrong to make them cancel.” Fact or Fiction


If a friend or family member cancels plans, do you often believe it is related to something you’ve done wrong?  This is a great statement to play Fact or Fiction.  It is almost certainly something to do with the person who canceled than with you doing something wrong.  This relies on you trusting your friends and family to be honest with you.  If they are close to you, the relationship can be one of trust and respect.  So being able to answer that this thought is Fiction will be a decisive shift in your anxiety level. 


If the only evidence you have to make something a Fact is your thoughts and feelings, then take some time to reflect on this.  If you don’t have evidence outside of yourself, or the idea makes you an anomaly, then it is most certainly Fiction.  The thought can be replaced with something more supportive and healthy.


Give it a try.  I’d love for you to let me know how it goes for you to play your own game of Fact or Fiction. So come follow me on Instagram @coachjenjim  and send me a DM.

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