“Other possibilities” tool

As you know, unhelpful thinking patterns are about seeing things in a way that does not represent reality. The “reality check” tool that we discussed before works by one not finding evidence to back up unhelpful thoughts. Here, I will describe another approach you can take, which is by using what I call the “other possibilities” tool. This would be best understood with the use of an example.

Let us imagine that Sally and her good friend Rupa are working in an office. One day, as Sally and Rupa see each other in the morning, Rupa doesn’t smile and even appears to ignore Sally. Sally immediately jumps to the conclusion, “Rupa must be angry with me.” For the rest of the morning, Sally is in a distressed state, trying to work out why Rupa must be angry with her. This goes on till lunchtime when Sally sees Rupa again. This time, Rupa smiles broadly and says, “This morning was so stressful. My boss had wanted me to do some calculations for him, and I had worked on it all weekend on my laptop. Yet this morning, the document with all the calculations seemed to have gone missing from my laptop and I was so terrified about going to the meeting. Luckily, at the meeting, there was this guy who is really good with computers and he somehow located the missing document, and whew, everything was fine after that!” 

As you can see, in this example, Sally had unnecessarily suffered a whole morning because of the unhelpful thought, “Rupa must be angry with me”, which did not match the reality of the situation. Let us now imagine a different direction this scenario could have taken. Let us start with Sally having the thought, “Rupa must be angry with me.” Sally then says “pause” to herself to still the thought. At this point, she asks herself, “What other possibilities are there for Rupa not smiling at me?”. Asking this question forces Sally to think of other possibilities and she thinks to herself, “Maybe Rupa is suffering from migraine like she sometimes does, or maybe she is stressed about some work issue or maybe she had a tiring morning coming to work.” This “thinking of other possibilities” makes Sally realise that the original thought that she had is not the only possible thought. In other words, there is a good chance that the thought, “Rupa is angry with me, may not even be correct, as there are other thoughts that also could be correct.” This example described how to use the “other possibilities” tool. As you saw, it can reduce the “power” of the original unhelpful thought by making one think of alternative thoughts. I.e. one realises that one’s unhelpful thought is just one of the many other possible thoughts.

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