Do you live in assumption-ville?

Last time I chatted about how the brain likes to automate things. Not because it likes to let us down, but because it has to automate stuff to allow our deliberate system to focus on what really matters that day. Can you imagine if we deliberated over what to have for lunch for an hour? Or agonised over where to go for dinner by drawing up a spreadsheet? It would be really limiting!

However, one of the downsides of automatic processing is assumptions. I’ve talked about these before in relation to the stories we have in our heads before we get on the scales. But when it comes to our relationship with food, or our body, assumptions are a beast and we make them all the time.

For example,

  • They’re looking at me because they think I’m fat.
  • That chocolate cake has ruined my good intentions so I may as well give up for the rest of the weekend.
  • If my weight is not going down, that is my fault.
  • If I gain weight, I need to try harder.

If we encounter some information or behaviour that matches what we’re expecting, our automatic system will make us aware of it. So, it becomes really easy to keep making these assumptions, as all the evidence our brain lets us in on, reconfirms this. The problem is, the brain also distorts things we hear to match our expectations. 

Confirmation Bias

So, for example if we start to form beliefs based on these assumptions; and these could be quite deep – perhaps things like we don’t deserve love or happiness or that our relationship with food can never change, then it saves us significant mental energy to look for things that confirm this. It’s known as confirmation bias.

How to spot confirmation bias

  • Do you find yourself using words like never, always, definitely, with a few ‘terribles’ and ‘awfuls’ thrown in for good measure?
  • Do you make big sweeping statements, and overexaggerate the negatives?

Of course, the dieting world does nothing to help this. It makes us false promises, it makes it seem an absolute cert that anyone can achieve and maintain any weight they want. It leaves us no alternative but to think it must be our fault then…

How to get out of this cycle

We can’t stop this automatic processing, but we can adjust our settings, by being more proactive in defining what our brain sees as ‘important’ each day.

Starting to tweak beliefs can feel really confronting, if not a bit icky. The brain doesn’t like it, because it’s more effort. It can’t just push it into the automatic. But with practice, more positive intentions become far easier to bring to life. And as our thoughts and mindset start to shift, this puts us back in control, as these thoughts then become what we automatically hear.

So, questions to ask yourself

  1. What negative assumptions do I have?
  2. What am I likely to focus on to confirm these assumptions?
  3. What is really going on here, and is it really as it appears?
  4. Would it serve me well to be more open-minded at this point?
  5. What would be a good starting point, bearing in mind I’m not super human, but that I’m willing to try?

How does that sound?