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Are You a Chronic Comparer?

Counterfactual thinking – imagining alternative lives – can either make us feel blue or inspire positive change. Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy (CBT) can help you mitigate the negative effect of counterfactual thinking and use your ability to fantasize to your advantage.

Social media and advertising encourages comparing, and when we compare, we engage in what psychologists call “upward counterfactual thinking.”

Have you ever wondered what your life might be life if you had a different career, a different home, a different spouse, if you were ten pounds lighter, if you lived in a different city, or if you were rich and famous?

“If only” thoughts about unactualised states and things that might have been are called “counterfactuals”. All of us have an innate tendency to fantasise about possible alternatives to the life that we have, and it’s something most people do automatically very early in life, usually by the age of two.

The phenomenon of counterfactual thinking was explored by Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1982 in their book “Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases", and is now a hot topic in psychological research with implications for learning, creativity, problem solving as well as the maintenance of mood states such as anxiety and depression.

Counterfactual thinking — thinking counter to the facts — can be helpful because it enables us to learn from mistakes, set goals and change behaviours to improve our lives. But in the digital age, when it’s almost impossible to escape the influence of Instagram, Facebook and advertising, the negative effects of counterfactual thinking can easily outweigh the positive.

Social media and advertising encourages comparing , and when we compare, we engage in what psychologists call “upward counterfactual thinking.” Upward counterfactuals are thoughts generated when we imagine better rather than worse alternative situations and circumstances for ourselves – for example when we look enviously at a billboard advert of man driving a red Ferrari and imagine that's us, or when we see a photo of a high school friend with a handsome husband and cute baby and wish we had what she has.

Upward counterfactuals can contribute to low self-esteem, self-pity, depression, worry and despair when we feel that our own life pales in comparison to our imaginary life, and when we feel powerless over our circumstances. However, upward counterfactuals can also lead to goal-oriented thinking and behaviour that will either move us towards actualising our ideal life or help us find ways to make our present life fuller and more satisfying.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you make better use of counterfactual thinking to get out of the rut of comparing and to achieve what’s important and meaningful to you. At Rescript: Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, CBT and hypnosis are combined to help you work with your counterfactual thoughts to reduce feelings of distress and take steps to manifested a more rewarding and contented life.


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