Your brain is lying to you (and how to stop it)

Our brains are not super honest with us.

They mean well. See, their job is to make meaning out of the world you see. But a lot of the time, the brain is trying so hard to make meaning that it makes meaning that isn't there.

Consider when you get negative feedback at work. Your brain is busy connecting dots that don't actually exist and it tells you, "Your boss doesn't like you. Your work isn't good enough. You'll never get promoted." And there's a reason it tells you those things; perhaps in the past, it learned that when someone said a negative thing to you it meant they didn't like you. That might have helped you protect yourself in grade school, but in adulthood, it mostly gets in the way.

Take another example: You want to make a change in your life for which there isn't a rulebook. Maybe you want to quit your job and start something new. Or start a family at a young age. Or go back to school at an older age! And your brain is telling you, "That is crazy. You are crazy. You don't have what it takes and don't know what you are doing."

 

It's trying to protect you!

Which is very sweet. But it's also not telling you the truth. The truth is that your boss is giving you feedback on a project as bosses tend to do. And that without a rulebook, you don't know exactly how your idea will play out. And that's scary.

This made-up-meaning that your brain is trying to convince you of is called distorted thinking. And there are all sorts of categories of distorted thinking, from jumping to conclusions, to magnifying the negative, to seeing things as all-or-nothing.

 

So how do we get ourselves out from under these thoughts?

First - knowing about them is a huge part of the battle. After having read this, you will start to notice when your brain is lying to you (or at least exaggerating) and reconsider.

Next - you start to choose how to respond to those thoughts. Let me be clear: the thoughts will never go away. Your brain is wired to make meaning and it's not going to stop. The key is that you get to acknowledge those thoughts and decide what to make of them. You get to choose whether to listen. You get to choose to defy them if you'd like. The only thing you can't do is ignore them completely. You will have to see them for what they are - natural tendencies of the brain to conclude things that may or may not be true - and then decide what to do from there.

If you find yourself unsure of what is true and what isn't, start with assuming that your brain is wrong. So much of life is what we make of it. Why not challenge yourself to look through a different lens for a while?