Attacking anxiety and depression: Correcting faulty thinking part 2

April 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Depression, Self Help

Brain Processing Errors

In part one of attacking anxiety and depression: correcting faulty thinking I talked to you a little about how your brain works so that you could understand how thinking develops. In part two I’d like to tell about how and why your brain makes errors and what that means for your mental health.

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Attacking anxiety and depression: How your brain works

Firstly, I should point out that your brain works very well indeed. However, in any system that has to manage the vast amounts of data your brain does, there will always be the possibility of error. The study of brain processing errors is a whole field of research that helps us better understand how the brain works. Many common errors seem to be the result of the brain using an inappropriate short cut. Which means the brain applies a strategy or rules it has used before thereby not having to fully process something. This leads to what we have called shortcut errors.

Attacking anxiety and depression: Brain short cut errors

The real problem with these errors is not so much that errors exist, but that you do not recognise them as errors.
Remember the effect of learning and repetition which we talked about in part one? Well, if an error occurs and it is not recognised it becomes easier to make the same error again; and after 50 errors it is automatic.

Sometimes this really does not matter very much. Suppose you acquired the habit of never eating green vegetables as a child because you mistakenly believed they were poisonous. It is now automatic. You never eat them. It is probably not going to hurt you much.

But suppose you acquired the habit of thinking of yourself as stupid. If you have thought it 50 times or more it is likely to be automatic. Lack of green vegetables will not stop you from achieving your life goals; thinking of yourself as stupid probably will. Both are examples of shortcut errors we have called faulty thinking.

Attacking anxiety and depression: The Muller Lyer Illusion

muller lyer illusion
Look at this picture. It is called a Muller Lyer illusion. Can you decide which of the horizontal lines is the longer, the one on the left or the one on the right?

This illusion is one of many tools that is used to study brain shortcut errors. Actually the horizontal lines are both the same length. But the way the diagonal lines are arranged fools your brain into thinking that the line on the right is shorter and the line on the left is longer. Feel free to measure them with a ruler is you feel the need.

The fact that your brain can make short cut errors may seem strange to you; if so, you can now see why you may have never corrected the errors. The fact is you would not recognise any thought or belief as an error unless you were shown how to see it in the first place. This is what we will do in part three.

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