~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~

Just as a person can get out of control, so can thinking.  Thinking can get out of control.  Nor is that all that uncommon.  It may happen to you, or someone you love, at almost any time.  What triggers it?  All that’s needed is a state of fear.  Get into a state of panic and your thinking will get out of control.  So also with any intense experience of fear, anger, excitement, lust, etc.  Almost any very strong and intense emotional state will do it.  Then, instead of calmly and rationally thinking something through- we jump to conclusions, over-generalize, awfulize, catastrophize, personalize, etc.  Suddenly our thinking regresses to the cognitive distortions.

Emotional Response

When we are threatened, or in a state of fear, we commonly fall back to the thinking patterns of childhood (the cognitive distortions).  That’s because the emotional side of our thinking is prevailing rather than the rational side of our thinking.  Threat, danger, overload – these are the things that trigger the lower functions of our brain to be activated.  That’s when we go into the flight-flight-freeze response of the “general arousal syndrome.”

Then blood is withdrawn from brain and stomach and sent to the larger muscle groups preparing us for a more fundamental survival response.

No wonder we can’t effectively think and especially calmly think through an issue.  We’re definitely in the wrong state for doing that.  If you want to do your best thinking- you’ll need to reduce the sense of threat and/or danger.  You have got to step out of reacting so that you can consciously respond.

Reasonable Thinking

Now when it comes to your thinking getting out of control, you can easily recognize that state or experience.  You or another person becomes defensive and argumentative.  You begin speaking in over-generalized ways saying that things always happen, no one cares, everybody is against you, etc.   When thinking gets out of control, people stop being reasonable.  They are not only emotional, they are overly emotional.  If they were merely emotional, that would be fine and it would be healthy.  It is when we get overly emotional that we then have a problem doing our best thinking.

At that point you cannot reason with them.  They are too agitated, upset, and irritable to think anything through.  Accordingly, you cannot have a healthy disagreement.  They are quick to demonize and moralize.  The other side is not just wrong, they are bad.  Evil.  The issue is not just a different point of view, it is immoral.  Now they are thinking and talking in stereotypical ways so that they no longer treat people as individuals, but as categories.  That allows them to more easily dismiss what they say because “those people” would say that!

Now does any of this sounds like the way politicians, news commentators, and others on television and radio commonly talk?  Dahhh!  It is the way that most of them constantly talk!  So, yes, of course.  Now while I suppose it keeps the audience engaged in a similar way to how a sporting event keeps people engaged, it sets up things as a battle.  “Who’s ahead?  Who’s going to win?”  It doesn’t really help people to think better, understand a problem, or solve an actual problem.

The good news is that you can also tell when thinking is under control.

Then, when someone makes a good point, the opposing side will acknowledge it and say, “That’s a good point.”  “Fair enough, I’ll give you that.  That makes sense.”  But when was the last time you heard that from a politician?

It certainly doesn’t seem to happen very often by my count.

Anyone whose thinking gets out-of-control from time to time probably needs a cognitive make-over.  The issue is not only a matter of defusing yourself or someone else, the problem is deeper.  It goes to the meta-cognitive capacity to recognize, monitor, and regulate one’s thinking itself.  How about yourself?  Would you like a cognitive make-over?

  • Access The FREE Self Leadership Brochure To Lead And Manage Positively

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Leave a Comment