This article was originally published by All Mental Health, a technology-driven nonprofit with a mission to increase access to cognitive behavioral therapy skills.
“I’m definitely going to fail this test.”
“I’ll never find a partner.”
“If I tell my parents I’m quitting my job they’ll be so unsupportive.”
“This presentation is going to be a disaster.”
Sound familiar? We try to predict the future all the time–and not in a fun fortune cookie way. In fact, we often tend to predict the worst case scenario. And then we go about our lives feeling down or anxious, because we start to believe that’s the only way things could go.
Fortune telling is one of the common tricks your brain plays. When you’re fortune telling, you’re negatively predicting what will happen. It might be based on real factors–maybe the presentation you gave before went poorly, or your parents have stressed how important it is for you to have a job–but your predictions will never be 100% accurate. We’re all mere mortals, and we can never know for sure what’ll happen. That can actually be good news: 1) Many of the negative things you predict will never happen. 2) Many of the positive things (that you think are impossible) will.
In some ways, it can be helpful for us to imagine how different scenarios could play out. That way we can plan and prepare. But it’s not helpful that our brains often serve us the “doom and gloom” option as if it’s 100% true. We don’t see all sides of the equation. Emotionally, we live with the anxiety akin to a train speeding down a rail to a disaster–we expect the worst.
You’ve probably picked up that fortune telling is not good for your mental health. That’s why mindfulness practices and cognitive reframing are great tools that help you pay attention to the present moment, and challenge the thoughts that are making you anxious.