The 4 advantages of counterfactual reasoning: thinking about what could and was not

What if I had dared? What if I said yes? These questions and a thousand more are typical of counterfactual reasoning. It consists in imagining alternative realities to our current reality, with all the emotional implications that this implies.

I will give an example. Imagine the typical movie in which a girl (or a boy) meets two boys at the same time. There comes a time when the situation is unbearable and you have to choose and bet on one of the two. She thinks, talks to her friends, appreciates them and, after much thought, finally chooses. Months later, even though he is doing very well with this boy, thoughts like, “What if I had chosen the other, what would my life be like now?” This is a counterfactual thought or reasoning: think about what could have been and was not.

But … and what is the function of this thought? Because, at first glance, it doesn’t seem very useful. Ruminating on a past that is no longer there or reversing decisions already taken does not seem to make much sense … However, today we know that counterfactual reasoning can be useful in certain situations.

    Why counterfactual reasoning is useful

    Science has shown that in certain situations, this reasoning can help us make sense of our lives. Below I summarize in four points why this thought can be useful.

    1. It helps to learn from mistakes and prepare for a better future

    This is one of the most common, and is that how many times have we regretted our mistakes… “If I hadn’t been out I would have made it and now I wouldn’t have to study to get well”, “If I hadn’t been so proud we wouldn’t have been without speaking for three days “,” What if I had accepted the offer? Maybe now I would have double the salary … “.

    here it’s not about itching, it’s about learning. We can’t go back, but we can stay home on the eve of the next review, swallow the pride of the next chat, and better consider the next upcoming offer.

    2. Comfort and relieve

    It fulfills this function in the face of lived situations that have been uncomfortable, painful, embarrassing or unfair. It would be, “Well, it could have been worse.” For example, “It took two days for the airline members to return our bags, but at least they didn’t lose anything” or “The meeting was a disaster, although he is still lucky that what has stumbled either him and not me … “. It relieves us to think that in the wrong, it wasn’t as horrible as it could have been.

    3. It produces well-being and satisfaction

    When? In situations where some success has been achieved. How? ‘Or’ What? Imagine how far it could have gone. It sounds a bit masochistic, it’s true, but there is an explanation behind it.

    And is that thinking of the evil that could have come out a bit and comparing it to its magnitude, do we feel enormous satisfaction, pleasure and joy. Because? Because when you compare we feel even more proud of ourselves for achieving that success or achievement.

    4. It gives emotion and meaning to the past

    More precisely, to memories. And here come into play phrases like “it had to happen”, “it was fate” or “things are going through something”. With thoughts like, “It was fate … I had to choose and if I hadn’t been able to go I wouldn’t have known the one who is my favorite author today”, we reinforce the emotion of this memory and give it a meaning: “I met her because fate wanted her”.

    We all love to remember the exciting situations we go through so that we can remember them. Oh yeah, don’t get your hands on the fire when you tell someone about a past fact and everyone claims that’s how they explain it. It is more than proven that many times, without knowing it, “We have edited” and distorted our memoriesSo we created a “new version”.

    Considering these 4 points, we have learned that counterfactual reasoning is useful if we use it for these 4 purposes. For everything else, it is better to ignore it, because it will bring us pain, lamentation and discomfort. Like the song says, trodden past.

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