The debate of whether or not thinking irrationally is good or bad has been going on for a long time. For example, some people believe that some irrational thoughts can help with motivation when it comes to creativity. On the other hand, there are also those who believe that thinking irrationally only causes more problems down the line. We’re not here to say one way is better than the other because both ways can be beneficial depending on the situation.
The main question is this: Is thinking irrationally good or bad? The answer is that it can be both. Thinking irrationally comes in the form of daydreaming, which for the most part isn’t all that bad. Daydreaming helps keep one’s mind active and creative. However, when daydreaming takes over real life, it can become a problem rather quickly. Like real-life situations, there really is no right or wrong answer to whether or not thinking irrationally is good or bad.
What is irrational thinking?
Irrational thinking is also referred to as non-sequitur. This type of thinking doesn’t follow any rules or standard processes. It’s often what goes through a person’s mind when he or she is bored and not paying attention, but it can sometimes happen on purpose.
Some may say that it is thinking outside of the box and that it is required for creativity. This may be true, but using irrational thinking can lead to a lot of problems and anxiety.
The benefits of thinking irrationally
There is some evidence that daydreaming and fantasizing helps people better absorb new information, because it allows them to encode the information and better manipulate it in their minds, using things like visualization strategies. Furthermore, according to Psychology Today, thinking irrationally may have some connection to creativity.
They state that both daydreaming and fantasizing can help in the creative process. The article states, “Déjà vu is an anomaly of time perception in which people think that they have already experienced a current situation, as though they were re-living it. It’s a well-known phenomenon that often occurs during the onset of hypnagogia, the transitional state between waking and sleeping. The déjà vu experience is a vivid feeling of familiarity and can often be accompanied by the sense that reality has shifted or morphologically changed.”
They further explain that “Déjà vu” can be explained by the phenomenon of “mental time travel”, which is the ability to mentally project oneself into the past, future, and even imagined settings. “The theory is that these two processes, mental time travel and déjà vu, are intimately linked, thus accounting for some of the more unusual features of déjà vu experiences.”
Such an example is known as “epiphany”- a sudden and intuitive manifestation of the connection between previously unrelated ideas. The epiphany presents itself to the person in a sudden flash. Epiphany may occur during sleep or in daydreaming and fantasy states.
The negative side of thinking irrationally
While we have discussed some of the positives of thinking irrationally, there are some negatives as well. The main aspect is that it can take over real-life situations. A person who routinely fantasizes about things going a different way from the way they actually did may become disoriented after returning from an imaginary world to reality.
Some people might daydream when they should be focusing on the matter at hand or not watching where they’re going, which can lead to a number of accidents, injuries, or death. It can also lead to people being late for work or school. Daydreaming can also be a form of escapism, which at times may be a valid coping skill, but in other situations such as when a person is struggling with anxiety or depression, it may become a habit that renders one incapable of dealing with the real world.
Furthermore, some people might become addicted to fantasy and struggle to distinguish fantasy from reality. According to PsychCentral, “For some people with bipolar disorder, the strangest symptom can be how much time they spend in fantasy. Bipolar patients are known for excessive daydreaming and fantasizing, but the problem is so pronounced that it affects their personalities and interpersonal relationships.”
They explain that “as a person with bipolar disorder becomes more manic, he or she can begin to lose touch with reality. A person might also start believing that they have superpowers or talents. They might feel like the world owes them something, and that they don’t need to listen to anyone else’s advice.”
They continue by explaining that “in extreme cases, a person can become so delusional that he or she thinks they’re a famous historical figure, an angel, a demon, or even God. They may exhibit dangerous behavior as well.”
According to Psychology Today, “Fantasy is important because it allows us to go through and explore different possibilities. It can help us test ideas. And when we’re stuck in a problem, it may allow us to find a solution.”
However, at times fantasy and daydreaming can take over real-life situations. For example, if they fantasize about something going the way they want it to go, then when it does happen that way, the person may become disoriented and unable to deal with the situation. However, fantasy can also serve as a coping skill for people who are struggling with anxiety or depression. They can use such situations to escape from reality in order to avoid being overwhelmed. However, this can be a problematic coping skill if used as a form of escapism.
7 things to combat irrational thinking
Firstly it’s worth pointing out that some irrational thinking can be positive and often this type of thinking goes unnoticed. For example, one might have a thought such as “what if I fail?”, which may be irrational but can provide motivation.
However, we tend to worry about things that we should not and worry about the past or the future far too much. Here are 7 ways to overcome irrational thinking:
1. List your irrational thoughts
Write down your irrational thoughts on a piece of paper. Put it in some area where you will see it as much as possible. Knowing that you have irrational thoughts will be a good start to combatting them. It might also help to write down rational thought responses next to each irrational thought. This will help you to learn how to combat your irrational thoughts.
2. Write down rational thoughts next to irrational ones
The next step is to write down the rational thought response that you would like to have when your irrational thoughts come up. This can be as simple as a one-second reminder of some things that you feel comfortable with and things that you would like to focus on. For example, when an irrational thought comes up, write down “I feel comfortable in my body”. Once this is written it will be easier for you to focus on it while your mind wanders.
3. Practice the rational thought response
The next step is to practice this rational thought response when you are feeling irrational. You can do this by practising it in your mind first. Then try to write it out on a piece of paper. If you have done this exercise correctly, then you should be able to remember what the rational thoughts were without needing to look at a piece of paper. This will stop your brain from going off on an irrational tangent and help you to bring yourself back into the present moment as much as possible.
4. Make it easier to see your rational thoughts
If you can, try to make it easier to see your rational thought responses. This will help keep your mind focused on them. For example, you could get a necklace and have the words or phrases on it or you could write them down and put them on a piece of paper every day at a certain time. You can also try wearing the necklace every day so that you associate it with something positive. Either way, the point is to associate them with something positive.
5. Don’t listen to your negative inner voice
If you find an irrational thought coming up, then try not to pay attention to it. Don’t even think about it. Just try to focus on your rational thoughts as much as possible. If you find yourself thinking about them, then just let them pass through your mind like a cloud and try not to pay attention. You can easily do this by looking at something that interests you or by focusing on breathing.
6. Challenge the irrational thought
The next step is to do something that you know is irrational and go against it. For example, you can challenge your irrational thoughts by asking yourself questions such as “Is this really true? Is this even possible?”. At this stage, you are not trying to prove if the thing is true or not. You are simply trying to see if it makes sense and whether it is possible. It might be a relief to realize that it does not make sense or that it is not a good idea after all.
7. Have a “challenge” focus
Next, you can try to make your challenge focus on something that you want to do. This may be difficult at first and it is ok if it doesn’t make sense right away. The point is to try and associate your challenge focus with something positive. For example, you can think about how the challenge will force you to feel better about yourself and how it will help you achieve your goals in life.
There is no doubt that it is possible to go through life with a healthy level of optimism while still being realistic. It can also be possible to make sense out of a world that we do not understand. However, when thinking becomes irrational it is important to realize that there are things that we cannot change.
At times it may also be worth taking some time to be alone and think about things, but it will be important to recognize when you have spent too much time doing this. Learning the difference between rational and irrational thinking is crucial. Do not let the constant struggle with irrational thinking become a problem. Use the 7 tips above to combat irrational thinking and improve your life. Be well.