What is Counterfactual Thinking? And How to Overcome Overthinking Regrets In The Past?

What is Counterfactual Thinking And How to Overcome Overthinking Regrets In The Past
What is Counterfactual Thinking And How to Overcome Overthinking Regrets In The Past

Have you ever been silent, suddenly your mind is just a flashback to events in the past? Then your head seems to play various scenarios that might change the actual reality.

You ask yourself, "What would have happened if I had done something different at that time? Was it better? Or worse?"

In psychology, this tendency to create different scenarios is known as counterfactual thinking. But not only past problems, sometimes our heads are also filled with questions about the future. For example, when we constantly think about the risks of the choices we are making right now.

Even if you realize that the past is not something you can control, it can still be very difficult to get rid of counterfactual thoughts. Because actually, thinking like this is a common thing for many people. In fact, it often appears automatically and unconsciously when someone experiences a negative event.

In some cases, counterfactual thinking can make overthinking, even bad mood if accompanied by regret for the reality in the past that did not match expectations.

What is Counterfactual Thinking?

Psychological research into counterfactual thinking began in the early 1980s. This is triggered by the realization that it is important for humans to understand the past and predict the future.

Counterfactual literally means contrasting or contradicting the facts. If defined, counterfactual thinking is the tendency to think of different possibilities or consequences of events that have or will occur.

This thought occurs frequently in “What if” scenarios. For example, when you imagine what might happen now if you did something different at that time.

Well, this habit can greatly affect a person's emotions, beliefs, and behavior. In some cases, counterfactual thinking can make us more grateful and learn from mistakes, such as when we survive a disaster.

On the other hand, counterfactual thinking can be very painful. This is because when things in our lives don't go as expected, negative emotions usually show up in the form of regret. An example is when you think that a tragic accident will not happen to your best friend if you remind her to wear her seat belt. So, what triggers counterfactual thinking?

There are at least three circumstances that can make a person experience counterfactual thoughts. The three circumstances are disappointing situations, near-miss events, and unanticipated realities.

However, the most common trigger for counterfactual thinking is a disappointing event. In this case, it means the habit of pondering the question of how bad events could be avoided if we had taken a different path.

Types of Counterfactual Thinking

There are at least 2 types of counterfactual thinking based on the direction of comparison. The two types are upward counterfactual and downward counterfactual.

An upward counterfactual is thinking about how the situation could be better. For example, a person who feels like a failure in his career might think: "If I had taken another job 15 years ago, my life would have been so much better." Because in this case, you imagine that your life could be better assuming you made alternative decisions in the past.

On the other hand, downward counterfactuals think about how the situation could be worse than it really is. For example, when you manage to get to work on time, you might think: "It's a good thing I didn't take the normal route, otherwise I'd be late." Here, you see the idea that if you make a different choice, your life will not be as good. at the moment.

The Positives and Negatives of Counterfactual Thinking

In fact, counterfactual thinking can be very beneficial if we are not constantly stuck in a "what if" mindset. Because this mindset tends to make us too focused on the past. Where everything has passed and cannot be changed.

An upward counterfactual, for example, can make you more grateful, as well as calm yourself emotionally. That is, by realizing that the situation could have been worse, we feel relieved that we have managed to avoid it.

A downward counterfactual can also be very useful. One of them is that it can make you continue to grow for the better. For example, when you get stuck in traffic on one route, you realize that you should find another, smoother route. You learn from experience, right?

Other Article: About the Benefits of Nostalgia, Do you often reminisce about the past?

However, the downside is that the upward counterfactual can be quite painful. One study found that imagining a "better outcome" was associated with regret, and it was linked to depressive disorders. Regret over the reality that does not match expectations can also sometimes make the mood bad, pessimistic, and lose motivation.

How to Overcome overthinking of regrets in the past

So, how to overcome overthinking of regrets in the past? Here are things you can do to deal with overthinking past regrets

1. Accepting mistakes and reality: Overcoming overthinking because of the past You can start by accepting that you are an imperfect human and cannot be separated from mistakes. Start learning to forgive yourself.

You can't keep drowning in regret because time will go on. Therefore, it would be better if you focus on the future and use your time for better things.

2. Use failure as a means to grow: With counterfactual thinking when you experience failure, it indirectly recognizes where you went wrong. Therefore, make this failure a means to develop and become a better person at least one percent from the previous day.

3. Learn practical things that can reduce the habit of overthinking: Actually there is nothing wrong if we think about something. But don't overdo it to make you anxious and overthinking. Because this habit is also not good for health.

So that's what I wrote about counterfactual thinking and I hope it's useful.

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