How I Use Counter-Factual Thinking to Prevent Fear From Paralyzing Me


Thanks to an article called “Easy Activities Science Has Proven will make you Happier,” I’ve been able to add one more “challenge” to my arsenal while on this happiness challenge journey I’m taking. This tool is called counter-factual thinking and it works when you “mentally subtract something good from your life.”

Yea, I thought I read it wrong first, too. Subtract something good? Don’t they mean mentally add something good?

After reading the article in its entirety, I was left to ponder on something that has changed my entire mindset ever since:

“But what about the good things that happen that might not have happened today?” This is a question I now ask myself daily.

As the author says in the article, we ponder, in great depth on the the good things that we wanted to happen that didn’t happen or didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. We rarely stop to consider the good things. They just float on by us, without leaving the impact they could while the events we perceive as negative stick with us for hours, sometimes days.

It makes sense to make an effort to instead focus on the positive moments that have happened in our lives, those moments that might not have happened like when someone steps up and pays a good deed forward, or when things just work out so perfectly for us.

That is precisely what the author means by “counter-factual thinking.”


Why Use Counter-Factual Thinking?

You may have come to the same conclusion that I did — that a world of positive things can happen for us when we use this technique to change our mindset from negative or neutral to a more positive, grateful one.

An example the author included in the article on counter-factual thinking, and something that we might all do well to ask ourselves was “what if you never met your partner?”

What a perfect start. Asking myself that question created quite an improved mindset and attitude for me and doing so has been a benefit to my relationship. Thoughts of gratitude quickly filled my mind after reading the first two paragraphs and using counter-factual thinking.

I began to focus on how blessed I am to have ended up with my soul-mate, and for our experience together. Using the counter-factual thinking method and realizing that it could’ve never happened and considering what my life would be like had I never had this amazing experience with my spouse had I never met him was all it took to improve mindset.

As humans who are constantly creating, putting in efforts to improve and get more out of life (law of attraction), that golden piece of information is the perfect tool to improve how we feel in any given situation we may be facing. Feeling gratitude is the best “vibration level” to be on when you’re trying to attract anything into your life, so it makes perfect sense that we could use counter-factual thinking to reach a state of gratitude and bring more of what we want into our experience.

I once wrote an article describing a technique I used to stop recurring worries about my biggest fear (and the worry that my fear might come into being).  Silly, when you put it that way, isn’t it? But that one fear was causing me great torment.

I constantly worried, even when I knew it was rational at times. This worry tormented me day in and day out. I knew that worrying about your fears becoming reality will not stop them from happening, yet I still worried! I analyzed and prodded every event that happened, trying to gauge whether my biggest fear was hidden within even the most mundane daily tasks, waiting to strike and ruin me.  I’d pick through every thought, every action someone did. Even the words people said.

Sure, it would be absolutely horrific if the fear I had did become a reality for me.

Sure, I would never be the same again and I would be bitter and sad.

But, damnit this torment sure wasn’t much better! And that’s when I decided that I must find a way to quell it. To stop constantly pondering the what ifs. What if my biggest fear is stirring to life right in front of me?

It had to stop plaguing me, so I came up with the only thing I could think of. To put things back into perspective, get back to reality and back to my sensible logic — to think of something far worse than my biggest fear. Something so grossly horrific that if this fear of mine every became a reality in my life, it would not ever compare to the tragedy of this newly thought up, horrific event. I recall that moment of breaking free very clearly.  I may not be able to prevent this fear of mine from becoming a reality one day, I thought, but I damn sure wasn’t spending any more days upset and worried and unhappy because of a simple possibility.

Sounds disturbing, doesn’t it? To think of something even worse than your biggest fear, and allow that to play out in your mind as if it’s happening right in front of you. That can’t do any good, right? But I tell you, it worked. When allowed myself to recall the most horrible thing I could ever imagine happening. Something that would be far more devastating if it happened than my biggest fear.

Like most folks, when you consider what the most horrific thing that could ever happen would be, the holocaust came to mind. So, I imagined my spouse & I being separated and put in horrible conditions to live for the rest of our lives.

And I can’t even begin to explain in words the ache I felt in my soul. Suddenly, my biggest fear wasn’t so big of a deal anymore. I basically tricked myself into quitting with the worries. This is counter-factual thinking, and in some cases, like the one I described tormenting me, it can actually be useful, as strange as it may sound.

You see, a holocaust happening (again), and all the pain and suffering that would ensue– that is far more horrible (and scary) than my previous fear that was plaguing me so often.

The significance of that big fear of mine became so petty in comparison to something far more horrific.

This little mind trick I would play on myself is very similar to the technique counter-factual thinking technique described in the article I linked to at the beginning.  I implore you to try it, too.  Think about how you could have never had the things you love most, and then feel the rush of appreciation for them.

Another scenario I have used is imagining myself about to die.

I don’t go into deep detail here as I really don’t care to picture myself actually dying, and then end up with a whole new fear!

So, I keep it vague with the question “what if I was dying?” I ask myself “would this (whatever the fear is that’s bugging me) be important?” The answer is always no.

I know these techniques seem extreme, but sometimes it’s the only thing that will lessen the recurring fears that play through the human mind.

Your worst fears becoming a reality — how much thought do you give to that topic? How often do we sit and ponder what we’d do if we were being hunted down by a killer, like the one we just read about or watched on TV? It’s so easy to focus on those things, putting ourselves in horrific situations, playing the nightmare through our minds.

I don’t know why we do this, but my theory is that we think we’re preparing or protecting ourselves by having what we think is a plan in mind.  We consider what we would do in the worst situations and we think we’re helping ourselves by preparing a “plan” if we ever do wind up in a situation such as being hunted by a killer. However, I don’t think many of us spend as much time playing out in the same detail what we’d do if, say, we were offered our dream job.

Do you have any techniques to help quell your fears? Do you use counter-factual thinking methods, too?


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