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Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Metacognition #5

11:42 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft ,
Today's Topic:  Probability Overestimation.  The tendency to believe that whatever prediction you may be making about a certain situation that it's at or near 100% likely to be true.  This thinking trap is often paired with others I've talked about the past few weeks, especially catastrophizing and mind reading.

It's only nature to believe that what you think is correct and that there's only a very small chance that something else may be true.  This serves as a protective quality, but can really turn up the stress dial when combined with negative expectations.

Back to our friend Shannon with UC:

Last week, Shannon was certain that a polyp that was removed in her colon meant that eventually she was going to develop colon cancer and die (catastrophizing).  Not only did she think this was her fate, she was 99% sure that it would happen (probability overestimation).  Needless to say, her worry was off the charts, she had trouble sleeping and couldn't concentrate very well at work.

Like catastrophizing, the key to overcoming probability overestimation is to examine the evidence.  I like to call it giving it the "will your argument stand up in court" method.  Sometimes I reference Judge Wapner, but depending on the age of my client that can backfire on me.  "Judge who?"

The People's Court 1980-1991

If Shannon were to present her case to a judge, does she have enough evidence for a "guilty!" verdict or would her case be thrown out for lack of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt?  When we're keyed up by distressing news or events, our minds tend to filter out more logical or rational thinking.  Our "Emotional Mind" can take over, making these thoughts seem to be accurate and likely.  Taking time to step back and evaluate your thinking can help shed light on what might otherwise feel like a catastrophic inevitability.

Next Week:  Discounting the Positive