Saturday, January 26, 2013

Slipping to Conclusions

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing
Thinking Something Does Not Make It True

Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills.
~ From As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

Inner voices argue: "Careful! That's ice."
 "No, you ditz! It's paint." 
“Watch out! You might slip,” inner Voice One commands every time I approach the green sidewalk in front of the Sebastian Goodwill store. For frugal me, that’s once a week. I stop short when I step onto that sidewalk because white dots are scattered across its surface. As I look down to gauge my next move, I usually see that I’m wearing flip-flops. A shuffle of conflict ensues as inner Voice One and inner Voice Two argue:
“Look at that! It’s salt. That means ice!” says Voice One.
“If that sidewalk were icy, you would be cold. You’re wearing flip-flops. You aren’t cold. That’s paint, you ditz,” says Voice Two.
“So it is,” I mumble and I adopt the quick steps I use since I have come from the land of ice and snow.
Yet for a few seconds, my eyes (and my memory) tricked my brain into believing, knowing, that I was about to step on ice. I changed my behavior and became cautious, poised to prevent a fall that wasn’t likely to happen.
Seeing is believing, isn’t it? No, it isn’t. Just because I see something, as when I see salt on that icy sidewalk, doesn’t make it real. Just because I think something, such as when I think, “I’m about to step onto an icy spot,” doesn’t make it real. However, for those moments I see the ice, those moments I think the ice, it is real. My next action could well be to pull my nonexistent wool coat closer to my chest and tug my hat tighter over my frozen ears.
Seeing my unfettered, exposed feet is the reality check that brings me back to Sebastian, back to warmth—back to the present. Past experiences such as seeing salt and ice can provide present wisdom to keep us safe, but it’s important to know when to leave those experiences in the past—where they often belong—lest we slip into the present unawares.
Just as thinking I was about to step on ice didn’t make it true, thinking many somethings doesn’t make them true. I try to stop myself when I think something and decide, on only the basis of my busy brain, that my thoughts are reality. It’s particularly “unreal” when I think, “I bet she/he thinks _____________” or “I bet he/she said ______________,” or “I bet he/she will __________” as if I am clairvoyant and have a working crystal ball.
When I languish too long inside my own head, whatever scenario I conjure, real or not, is real because I experience it; it’s what I’m living, even if it’s happening only behind my eyes rather than in front of them. I can get so involved in a memory, a future projection, or an imagined discussion, action, or experience, even someone else’s, that it might as well have occurred. I enter the danger zone when imagination takes over and blocks the awareness that not one thing has happened in real time.
Imagination is an enriching, sparkling part of life, but it’s not a good path to let our neurons take when what we imagine causes us to surmise what other people think, how they behaved, reacted, spoke, believe, or anything about their future actions or thoughts.
It’s called jumping to conclusions. I do it. Many people do it. It can cause real harm, especially when we create negative thoughts, emotions, or actions that have no basis in reality. Jumping to conclusions harms us even during the moments our imagination dives into whatever worst-case scenario it has devised. Shaking off that descent into my darker side, I often attempt a switch-up. I say, “________ probably will not happen” and I decide to hope for the best.
Rather than hope for the best, perhaps a better course of action is to think for the best. It would be too bad if by slipping to conclusions, I really did get hurt, or worse, hurt someone else.

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