“Don’t Believe Everything You Think”

Dear President Trump,

It must be as rare as hens’ teeth since I’ve only seen it three times to date, but Wednesday I saw my favorite bumper sticker: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” I immediately thought of you. However, before I launched into an internal rant about your thinking, I dutifully reminded myself that this message really applies to everyone, including me. We can all get caught up in our own insular narratives that are so convincing we don’t realize we may not have it all right or that we are flat out wrong. This is old territory so I’m not going to bother unpacking it further today. Instead, I want to offer some strategies you could use to follow the bumper sticker’s sage advice. There is a therapy called cognitive restructuring that was initially developed for people struggling with depression and it’s been adapted to address all sorts of psychological problems, including PTSD. The idea is that people can get stuck in belief systems that are informed by their depressed mood or past trauma in ways they are not aware of and by recognizing these stuck points and unpacking them through Socratic questioning, they can begin to think more flexibly and reduce their reactivity and suffering.

The Socratic questioning uses a core set of about 10 challenging questions, but being a “less is more” sort of person, I tend to focus on just four: 1) am I doing all or none thinking? 2) am I confusing feelings with fact? 3) have I considered the source? 4) am I focusing on just one small part of the situation? You don’t have to have PTSD or depression to benefit from scrutinizing your thoughts in this way. What you do have to have is willingness, willingness to accept that your thinking may not be correct, to monitor your thoughts diligently, to ask yourself some challenging questions, to step back and consider more balanced ways of thinking about situations, and a willingness to do this over and over and over until the end of time. That’s all. How about it? If someone on your staff wants to reach out, I’d be happy to point you all towards helpful resources. It can be really freeing to let go of believing everything you think and if you were to work at this, the Free World would thank you.

May you be safe enough to face your own thought processes.
May you be happy to admit when you are wrong.
May you be willing to learn how to engage in healthy cognition.
May you see that balanced thinking is a requisite for peace.

Tracy Simpson

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