Why do we worry and overthink so much? Why do we often imagine the worst case scenario when we don’t have the full story?
The brain is very adept at filling in when we don’t have all the information. In psychology this is known as top-down processing. This ‘generalising’ process is useful and helps us to navigate our world effectively. For example, if I see a door I have never seen before, the top down processing part of my brain automatically identifies it as ‘a door’, and I can approach the door with the confidence that it will open in or out, allowing me to go through. Top-down processing is happening in every moment of our day and it saves us a lot of time!
Here’s a great example of top-down processing in action: “Aoccdrnig to rsereach at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deons’t mttear in waht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tinhg is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be at the rghit palce. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can siltl raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?
However, top-down processing has an undesirable flipside, as sometimes the mind fills in what it doesn’t yet know with negatives. Imagine this scenario: You are hundreds of miles from home and you suddenly receive an unexpected call from a loved one. There is a certain tone in their voice and more pauses than usual……..they tell you that there has been an incident………. ”A man was seen standing near the house………., there are bloody prints on the now broken gate..........the cat has been missing for two days!"
What pictures and scenarios did you just imagine?
Neuroscience research tells us that when the mind doesn’t know something, it will often fill in the gaps with negatives. This process is understood to be automatic. It is often out of our awareness and it is not yet fully understood why the brain creates these negative pictures to fill the void.
In my coaching work I hear clients telling me all sorts of stories, in which they are picturing the worst case scenario; or they are worried and fearful about the unknown. However, we can manage this and here are a few methods that can help us to control our thinking:
Gather the necessary information – If you don’t know something, spend the time gathering the information you need. In this way you are more able to make an informed decision about an issue and at the same time stop your mind from making up all sorts of nonsense. When you do this you will notice the difference!
Take action/do something – If there is an issue and the mind is creating negative scenarios, sometimes taking action can help. Make the call you need to make, go to the place or situation, even face what it is you thought you were afraid of. How many times have you confronted something you thought you were afraid of and it was actually far less scary than the pictures you were making in your head?
Focus on what you want – If you catch yourself worrying and 'disaster-ising,' flip your thinking and focus on what you want instead. If you are picturing losing, flip your thinking to what it would be like to win. This habit will generate more positive feelings and it gives your mind a more positive direction in which to go.
Powerful words – After thinking a negative thought or seeing a negative internal picture, say one of these key words, CANCEL or DELETE. Say one of these words straight away and with authority, let your mind know you mean business. This is a very powerful mind management tool and in time negative thinking will reduce because you are instructing your mind to do less of that type of thinking.
For more help on managing your negative thinking patterns arrange a consultation with Paul. Personalised coaching programmes start from twelve weeks all the way up to yearly contracts.