Counterfactual Thinking

Share This Post

27th April, 2023

Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something that is contrary to what actually happened

Counterfactual thinking is, as it states: “counter to the facts”.

“I wish I had taken that other job instead of this one 10 years ago – my life would be so much better if I had.”

“I wish I would have gotten the part in that high school play, maybe I could have gotten into a theatre school and become an actor…”

A counterfactual explanation describes a causal situation in the form: “If X had not occurred, Y would not have occurred”. For example: “If I hadn’t taken a sip of this hot coffee, I wouldn’t have burned my tongue”. Event Y is that I burned my tongue; cause X is that I had a hot coffee.

Thinking about what did not happen but could have happened, or relating to this kind of thinking: Thoughts about how an embarrassing event might have turned out differently are known to psychologists as counterfactual thinking.

Have you noticed that a bronze medalist is generally more happy than a Silver medalist at the end of the game.

It’s not incidental finding but proven fact in many research studies after studying reactions of silver medalists vs bronze medalists!

Ideally,  a  silver medalist should be more happy than bronze. But, the human mind doesn’t work like mathematics.

This happens because of Counterfactual thinking.

Sliver medalist thinks” oh I couldn’t win the gold medal.

Bronze medalist thinks Atleast I got a medal

Silver medal is won after losing but bronze medal is won after winning.

This happens Daily in our life also, we don’t appreciate what we have but feel sad with what we don’t have.

You might be thrilled over a 5% raise at work until you learn that your colleague down the hall earned a 10% raise.

Thinking in the past tense can be motivational and even healthy at times, but the best thing to do is look forward.

While counterfactual thinking as a whole can be used to motivate us to make better choices or appreciate where we are in life,  we should try and come up with ways to move on and focus on the present and the future instead of the past.

Using counterfactual thinking as a motivational tool can be very helpful if we don’t get stuck in the “what if” mindset that tends to pull us out of the present and back into the past, where things will always remain the same.

Let’s be grateful for our blessings so far, they far outweigh our problems only if we start counting.

Indulge in the What If not for the past but for the present and the future and stay blessed forever.