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November 11th, 2009:

Thinking accurately and believably

An often heard piece of advice given to people who are feeling depressed or anxious or struggling in some way is to “think positively”. It is not necessarily bad advice and if it’s easy to do then it will probably help. However it is not easy to do. The main reason for this is that our thinking really defines who we are – our opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and our conscious stream of thought are what make us unique. To change them is no easy matter. A more appropriate goal is to “think accurately”. The main problem with “negative thinking” is that it is inaccurate. One of the main tasks in therapy with clients who are depressed or anxious is to help them identify the inaccuracy in their thinking (for example the over-prediction of threat or danger, or the negative evaluation of their own worth). The next step is to change their thinking so that it is accurate, not necessarily positive. In fact it is more important that their thinking is accurate and realistic because their thinking also needs to be believable. There’s no point in helping someone to think in a different manner if they can’t believe it, because they won’t be able to maintain it.

So the goal should be accurate and believable thinking, and if possible, positive thinking, but it shouldn’t be positive at the expense of being accurate and believable.