Dr. Hannah Singer
Fact-checking. It’s a staple of every presidential election. Why? Because it’s common knowledge that politicians don’t always speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Instead, they are skilled at manipulating and bending (or sometimes flat-out ignoring) the facts to support their case and persuade voters.
Fact-checking is critical because if blindly accepted as truth, these fraudulent statements can have significant consequences. That’s why political analysts, journalists, and ordinary citizens analyze and investigate every word uttered by the presidential candidates to see if there is evidence to support or debunk their “facts”.
As informed citizens, we have learned to take everything politicians say with a grain of salt. It’s the key to a healthy democracy.
It can also be the key to a healthy YOU.
What if I told you that your mind is kind of like a politician? It’s a masterful storyteller that rattles off lies and half-truths all day long. Except instead of “Hillary Clinton invented ISIS with her stupid policies. She is responsible for ISIS”, it might be, “You totally messed up that presentation. Now you’re never gonna get that promotion”.
Our automatic thoughts and interpretations happen so quickly that most of the time we aren’t even aware of them. They are so habitual that they become like background music in our minds. But when you start to pay attention to your internal dialogue throughout the day, you’ll probably find that it sounds a lot like a politician.
If you’re like most people, your politician mind probably says things like:
“I’m so awkward. Why did I just say that?”
The problem is that these nasty thoughts become so second-nature that we never stop to examine them and see if they are accurate. Guess what? The majority of the time, they’re not.
And just like unchecked facts from politicians, our unchecked thoughts can have serious negative consequences for our emotional and psychological well- being. Our automatic thoughts directly influence our emotions and behaviors. In fact, inaccuracies in our thinking is a major contributor to depression and anxiety.
What if we learned to apply a healthy level of skepticism to our own thoughts? To our own internal “politicians”? What if we could learn to “fact check” our own critical voice instead of accepting our habitual thoughts as the absolute truth?
This is the main idea behind Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is an evidenced-based treatment for numerous mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, trauma, and relationship conflict. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the focus is on identifying habitual thoughts that are contributing to distress and evaluating whether these thoughts are accurate by looking for evidence to support or refute them. When you find that an automatic thought resembles something that might come out of a politician’s mouth, CBT encourages you to elect a more honest and accurate one.
But you don't need to be in therapy to start doing this.
Learn a lesson from this presidential election. Become a fact-checker of your own thoughts - Just like you don’t trust politicians, don’t automatically believe every thought that pops into your head! Question the accuracy. Look for the evidence. I’m willing to bet that this will contribute to a happier and healthier you.
I'm a clinical psychologist and adult psychotherapist based in Los Angeles.