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Cause and Effect Thinking and Spinning Out

by Jo-Ann Downey

in Mental Clarity & Calmness

I believe in cause and effect.  I experience it every day.  I eat a healthy meal and I feel good.  I feel irritated and more irritating things appear in my life.  Cause and effect awareness is a great learning tool. And it can be overused.  I know because I can get spun out in cause and effect thinking.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect relates processes and events together.  In other words, it pairs things together where the first is wholly or partial responsible for the second and the second is dependent on the first.

I love cause and effect.  It makes me feel more in control of my life and guides me to repeat what works and to modify or avoid what doesn’t work for me. However, can you really know everything that is going on, especially when other people are involved?  As shared in “There is No Such Thing as a Table for Two”, there are many dynamics and they can change from minute to minute. For example, your mature self might be talking to someone’s immature self.  Your belief that punctuality is important may collide with someone’s nature to be carefree. You should probably assume that you just don’t know exactly what is going on (perhaps even with yourself).

Cause and Effect Internal and External Factors

Many internal (e.g. judgments, beliefs, intentions, feelings, attitudes, levels of willingness) and external (e.g. who, what, when, how, intensity, frequency) factors effect outcomes.

I find myself searching for cause and effect theories when things are going well or poorly. After I sprained my ankle I kept wondering what I did wrong.  Victim mentality is often present when cause and effect thinking is coupled with negative experiences and judgments.

I also tend to relate positive things in my life with external versus internal factors. For example, thinking I took a long walk because I slept well (vs acknowledging my level of commitment and willingness to exercise).

Cause and effect thinking/overthinking can be limiting, complex, and tricky!

Cause and Effect Spinning Out

Be wary if you spend a lot of energy trying to answer precisely why something happened (or didn’t happen) or strongly justify an outcome as if you know exactly all the variables and dependencies involved.

Judgments (especially negative), defiance (not moving into acceptance), trying to pinpoint exactly why something happened, believing you know exactly why something happened can spin you out and/or have you believing something that is not true.

Signs You May be Spinning Out

You are probably spinning out of control, and/or overthinking cause and effect, if your mind can’t slow down, you spent an excessive amount of time thinking about or talking about a particular situation, you have all or nothing thinking, life is not fun, your productivity and energy goes down, you feel fear and anxiety, you overreact, or you go numb (or numb yourself).

Use cause and effect for positive change.  Accept, learn what you can, be patient if the answer is not available to you, continue to be a scientist in your life, and move on.

“Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

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photo: zsofia trang nguyen

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