As I’m taking the bus to my coworking cafe today, I click play on my podcast app. NPR’s Hidden Brain has a new episode called Rewinding & Rewriting. The topic is counterfactual thoughts, a method I never heard until now, and this just made my day.
Before I get ahead of myself, a quick overview of the story. A girl falls in love with a boy over skiing in the beautiful mountains. They marry, and continue taking these professional ski trips together all over the world. They decide to take a helicopter to a high and secluded mountain, where they will ski intense and untouched terrain.
Her husband, Jack, makes a comment. “I have a bad feeling about today.” He’s not naturally a worried type of person, so this comment effects his wife. However… they are already in the helicopter, and both decide it’s probably nothing. Well, while skiing, an avalanche occurs, and Jack dies, while his wife lives. She replays his comment, and her regret, on a loop in her mind.
However, one day she changes the story she tells herself, possibly as a coping method.
While she’s replaying Jack’s comment in her mind, this time she replies and says they shouldn’t take the trip, and the helicopter bring them back home. Everyone is safe. She feels calm, she feels in control, she stops feeling hopeless and regretful.
This is called counterfactual thoughts.
Counterfactual thoughts are beneficial for us in terms of providing a set of options that we might act upon in the future. In other words, these thoughts train your brain to act differently for the next time a similar situation happens.
I started thinking how beneficial this is for daily habits we want to change in our own lives. For example, I have been regretting my habits since the beginning of the new year. During my two months in Puerto Vallarta, I wasn’t drinking, I was eating super healthy, I was reading and writing on a daily basis.
Since I came back to Mexico City, I’ve been drinking, eating poorly, and not continuing my daily reading and writing habits. I feel bad, I feel regretful that I started the new year off on a bad foot, and now I can’t even button my favorite jeans. GREAT.
But then I started thinking.. what if I changed this narrative? What if right now, in this moment, I change the way I view the last three weeks? What if I believe that since I’ve come back, I continued not drinking, eating super healthy, reading and writing everyday. How would that change my current situation? Well, I would feel hopeful, proud, and feel the momentum to continue these habits.
I just changed my life in two seconds. Now I’ll just have to stay with this thought pattern until I can button my favorite pair of jeans again:)