Counterfactual Comparisons

During this difficult time, it is challenging for many people to stay positive, but staying positive is a part of staying focused, which is what we need to do as a society to help get through this time.  One proven tool to help us do this is by the use of counterfactual comparisons.

Counterfactual comparisons are not lies you tell yourself.  They are not minimizing the issue.  They are not telling yourself that others have it worse than you.  The human brain, unfortunately, is really good at thinking about all of the ways that things could be better than they are right now.  However, the human brain is not very good at thinking of all of the ways that things could actually be worse than they are right now.  Chronically happy and resilient people, however, know this secret.  The ability to look at the circumstance and compare it to circumstances which could be worse is extremely healthy and provides a great deal of resilience during difficult times.  You see this with cancer patients who may say things like, “Well at least I got the sort of cancer that was operable.”  Or, “At least I got breast cancer when I was older.”  This in no way minimizes the severity and gravity of a circumstance, but it does help the person come into understanding that there are versions of the story that could be worse.

Those who have survived some of the most catastrophic experiences in recorded history showed this tendency.  They were able to remind themselves that although there is a significant problem in front of them, there are many aspects of their life that are going well.

Over the coming days, look for ways where you can practice this.  Try to begin some of your thoughts with the phrase, “Well, at least….” and see what you are able to come up with.  Again, this in no way downplays the gravity of the current circumstance, but it gives the brain something to chew on as opposed to its usual diet of negativity.

CMA continues to wish everyone health and safety during this time.


  • Terence Bostic, Ph.D.

    Terence is a Managing Partner at CMA Global, where he has been helping executives develop engaged and more effective talent pools since 2003. He is a licensed psychologist in Missouri and is repeatedly published as the principal author in international, peer-reviewed journals on issues of stress management, personal resiliency, and psychological wellbeing. He is also a member of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the Society for Consulting Psychology.

    View all posts