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It’s important to make sure your thoughts about yourself or your situation match reality as closely as possible. The other day, I was talking with someone who was going through a very stressful time. She was recovering from a health problem that was quite serious. She had good reason to be stressed out.

But there were also some ways in which her thoughts didn’t align with the reality of her situation. For example, she had been given a good health prognosis by her doctor, but her thoughts were still telling her that she could die at any moment. She thought she had to keep up her work schedule like nothing had happened, yet the reality was people would probably understand if she had to slow down a bit.

She was experiencing quite a bit of objective stress. But her subjective thoughts and feelings were exacerbating her already stressful situation. She was making her situation worse.

Seek Feedback

This is a difficult problem to solve. All our experiences are mediated by our thoughts and reactions. We don’t ever see our situation in a completely objective manner. Because of this, it’s important to develop habits of seeking feedback about your thoughts and reactions. Get in community with other healthy individuals. Have relationships in which you regularly “check out” your thoughts and reactions with others, to make sure they are as close to the reality of the situation as possible.

Get Multiple Perspectives

Sometimes in our research, we measure something using external raters. For example, we might have a married couple come into the lab and talk about something they disagree about. We videotape the interaction, and then have external raters rate the couple on various things (e.g., satisfaction, communication, etc.). In order to get a reliable rating, we have to use several external raters and put their ratings together. The average of multiple raters is more accurate than just one rater.

In the same way, when you are checking out your thoughts and reactions with others, make sure you get the opinion of a few different people. One opinion might not be accurate, but if you check in with several folks, you are probably getting closer to the reality of the situation.

Discussion

How well do your thoughts and reactions reflect the reality of your situation? What do you think about the strategy of checking in with several people close to you and getting their reaction or opinion?