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Imaginary suffering

A powerful quote from Stoicism: we suffer more in our imaginations than in reality. A very early principle of cognitive therapy! Put differently, Mark Twain famously said: I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. And I quote I heard somewhere years ago… worrying is just practicing to feel bad.


How many times have we added to our suffering by catastrophizing? Or jumping to a (negative) conclusion? Or being very black-and-white in our thinking? Most likely more times than we can count. Yet, do we reflect on this and make any critical cognitive adjustments to alleviate such suffering? Typically not.


When you find yourself stressed, or feeling an uptick in anxiety, stop and ask: what am I telling myself? Is there actual evidence of this? Am I fixated on something that is only possible, but not probable?

I am a huge fan of journaling. Taking time to reflect on our inner world, and these tendencies, can result in tremendous growth and improved mental health. Putting thoughts to paper helps slow everything down, organize, and process. I suggest taking a little time regularly to reflect on what you’ve been telling yourself and look at what actually happened. Or look for the evidence. Are you indeed adding to your suffering through an active imagination?

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