More ABC’s of Rational Thinking

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Here are a few more ABC’s of Rational Thinking, as a sequel to the post The ABC’s of Rational Thinking

The Triad of Inertia: Can’t, Won’t & Don’t.

The ‘I can’t’ phrase is one of the more everyday lies we tell to ourselves, and others. The reality is we can, and choose not to. We generally have very good reasons for choosing not to pursue some activity, behavior, skill, relationship. We say ‘I can’t’ to avoid responsibility and ownership of our state of mind. The human mind, and body, is capable of extra-ordinary feats. If one human can do it, any human can do it. Of course, it may take many years, decades, to accomplish being able to do it, and do it well. But, we can do it, if we so choose. So, the more realistic, and empowering, phrase to use instead of ‘I can’t’ is won’t or I will not. Or, I choose not to.

Don’t, or do not, is, again, like can’t, coercive; that is, the language of you can’t do this or that, you won’t or don’t do this or that. Presumably, these demands are imposed upon us by authorities such as parents and teachers. We continue to use them as adults because they are very ingrained as habitual language patterns we use when talking to ourselves, which we do constantly. We have a never ending stream of commentary going on. We can get very wrapped up in the commentary, and upset when disrupted, when asked to put it aside and do your work. Like daydreaming, and coming back to this reality.

The common denominator with can’t, won’t and don’t is coercion. Unlike shoulds and have to’s which are coercive towards something; can’t, won’t and don’t is coercive away from something, it is prohibitive.The human ethos is rooted in doing what is prohibited. You can’t eat that! And, so, it is eaten. What we might call original oppositional defiance. But, let’s imagine, if you will, being told by a very high authority to not eat an apple on the tree, and you abide by that command and do not eat the apple; yet you very much want to eat the apple. And, you don’t. Perhaps compliant now, and also tired, lethargic, unmotivated and depressed, because you want, and can’t have. And then, years later, we see an apple on a tree, have the thought to go pick it and eat it, and tell ourselves we can’t, because we were told don’t, and won’t; and, again fall into the fault zone of depression, and inertia, based on a belief schema about what happens when opposing prohibitions.

Catastrophizing & Magical Worry

The mind is very creative and can find significant joy in fabricating scenarios, positive and negative, and shades of hues in between; and yet,few situations rise to the level of catastrophe, and yet we may use language within ourselves that make it out to be the worst thing in the world. There could be benefit to this if when the catastrophe does not occur, there can be significant relief. This is a bit like ‘magical worry’ in which the belief is that worry itself wards off that which it is worried about. If you don’t worry, that which you are not worrying about, will happen. Because so much of our understanding around concepts is in contrast to its opposite, understanding this process of catastrophizing, magical worry, and making mountains our of molehills, in comparison to its opposite, can be helfpul. Let’s postulate that the opposite of catasrophization is ‘minimization.’ At the more extreme side of things minimizing is just as dysfunctional as catastrophizing. That being said, some minimization may well be called for to counter a fabricated catastrophe.

Generalizations & Distortions

The mind also likes to generalize and can take one trait, one behavior, one incident, from one person, and generalize about all of humanity. We may use words like ‘everyone’ or ‘all the time’ or ‘always’ and ‘never’ to represent this gross generalization. ‘I’m never going to be able to do this or be that; I’m always going to have to deal with this.’ ‘Everybody is out to get me.’ ‘Nobody likes me.’

There is a time and place for generalization; it makes communication convenient, not to mention a very simple way of building a reality. This tendency to generalize is most obvious when in a traumatic situation. At those times, the impact of the trauma becomes a kind of baseline through which all subsequent experience is filtered. If you were bitten badly by a big dog as a child, all dogs are a potential threat. That one experience has generalized to encompass a very specific field. For this same person for whom all dogs are a threat because of one dog, could be entirely comfortable with several different brands and models of automobile. The adolescent who is spurned may now generalize that one painful, hurtful situation into others as an inevitability.

Generalization is often, easily, distorted. We may recall a traumatic situation, even one mildly so, and what we recall is not what happened. What we recall is what we think happened, what we remember happening; but, memory is not that reliable, especially over time. Growing up is not without its traumas, which is a Greek word meaning ‘wound.’ We are not without our wounds, and wounds contribute to distortions of thinking. If we are hurt, there is more likelihood of not being accurate and coherent, rational and realistic, which are distortions


One of the most substantial cognitive faults is believing that we must know. Of course, we do know a lot of everyday things; we know how to drive a car, boil and egg, complete a myriad of tasks at work, have some fun with a hobby or sport or game or socializing. And yet, when it comes to the way we think, how we have built up our personal reality, our beliefs, we don’t know if they are valid, useful, accurate, erroneous, productive, or counterproductive. We don’t know a lot about ourselves, and even less about others, and far less about the world, and the universe of which we are all, individually and collectively, a small expression. But, we have beliefs about all of that, and more. We think we know.

To acknowledge that we don’t know is rather liberating. And, it opens the mind to information that is not available when the belief is such that I already know.


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