Did you know that many people tell their own fortunes daily—and make themselves miserable in the process?
Let me illustrate this with a little story: Mary is feeling rather anxious. Her mother-in-law is coming over for the long weekend—her first visit to the new house—and Mary knows she will disapprove. The house just does not have the style that her mother-in-law likes, but with a baby on the way, they really cannot afford something bigger. Not that it should matter—but still, the old lady’s criticisms always leave her feeling irritable, which means she will be fighting with John tonight, and that is bound to spoil the whole weekend for all of them. What’s more, Jane from next door will probably pop in over the weekend, and Mary’s stomach clenches at the scene in her mind: Jane is a darling, but the clothes she wears will draw more criticism from the old lady about the neighbourhood and the kind of people who live there. Oh dear, and the roast is bound to a flop; even with Sally’s “fool-proof” recipe, which Mary has not yet had time to test. Why on earth did she not remember that John’s mother makes the perfect roast? She will not like the store-bought gravy that Sally recommended, either. And what can Mary offer her in its place? There’s some ham left over from yesterday, but Mother-in-law won’t like cold meat for supper, and …. This is all she needs: a miserable, tense weekend with her mother-in-law, and on top of this, she might be nauseous again in the morning, and John will be angry with her if breakfast is not ready when his mother comes in from her early-morning walk. Cereal will not be good enough, of course, which means eggs and bacon on a queasy stomach ….
By this time Mary is really angry with John for having insisted on having his mother over this weekend. She has a headache, her hands feel clammy and her stomach is in a knot. Her mind is churning with resentment and she has completely forgotten about the roast in the oven ….
Note that none of the events that has Mary in such a knot has actually happened yet. She is “predicting” all of them on flimsy evidence, and whether these predictions will “come true” or not, is almost beside the point: Mary has “told her own fortune”, and she is already living the misery she foresees for the weekend.
Psychologists call this kind of thinking “cognitive distortion.” A cognitive distortion is an irrational way of thinking that, if it becomes a habit, will eventually turn the blues into depression, a bad mood into a violent explosion of anger, or a niggling worry into a full-blown panic attack. Psychologists have listed several types of cognitive distortions, one of which seems to be a favourite of Mary’s: “fortune telling” or “jumping to conclusions.” In fortune telling, you assume that something negative is going to happen, even though there might be little evidence to support your “prediction”. Unfounded assumptions, worries and fears can have a considerable effect on your mood, making you irritable, anxious or glum─long before the event you anticipate has happened! These thoughts might start with “What if…” or “But suppose….” Or you just know that X will do Y, and the very thought puts you in a temper. The next time you catch yourself “predicting” your own fortune, break the habit with a spread that helps you take a calmer and more rational look at the thinking behind some of those emotions. Even if that “prediction” does become true, at least it will find you in a better frame of mind to deal with it.