But, if we don't realize there is a problem to be solved or if we grow close minded against potential solutions, things can get a little messy. It's a pretty cool phenomenon if you think about it, but most people don't think about it and few of us ever take the time to try and solve problems. Instead, we get upset that there is a problem, look for someone else to fix it and then make it worse through negative thoughts. Sounds pretty ineffective, doesn't it? I could spend half a chapter analyzing why this happens and what psychologists have been saying about our habit of deferring problems through stress, but in reality, all that really matters is that you stop doing it. Our search for confirming data is one of the main ways we stick to our current beliefs. It's also indicative of a fundamental cognitive strategy that we employ. We use a positive-test strategy when forming our judgments. That is, our cognitive system is set up to focus on positive, as opposed to negative, instances. This doesn't mean that we're optimistic--always looking on the bright side of life. Rather, it means we like to think in terms of yesses instead of noes when we consider a certain issue. When testing whether a person is an extrovert, we attend to more data that suggests that the person is an extrovert--the data says yes, the person is an extrovert. What if I told you these numbers obey a certain rule, and that you have to determine what the rule is. To decipher the rule, you can choose other sequences of three numbers, and you'll be told yes, they obey the rule, or no, they don't. Think about what the rule might be, and write down a sequence of three numbers to test your hypothesis.13 When we form a hypothesis about the rule, such as "even numbers increasing by two," we often pick numbers like 12, 14, 16--numbers that conform to the rule. If we're told, Yes, they obey the rule, we then pick something like 50, 52, 54, and are again told yes. After selecting a couple more triplets that conform to our rule, we become convinced it's "even numbers increasing by two," and are flabbergasted when told it's wrong. Undaunted, we think again and decide to test a different rule, such as "any three numbers increasing by two." After mentioning 3, 5, 7, and 21, 23, 25, we state that rule--and are told it's wrong. What's going on? What could the rule be?

It's "any three numbers in increasing order." Why do we have a hard time discovering the rule? We try to prove our hypothesis correct by searching for examples that confirm the hypothesis, not for examples that disconfirm it. That is, we look for examples that yield a yes response. The problem with this strategy is that we could give a thousand examples which conform to the hypothesis and still not get a definitive answer on the correct rule. Why? If we think the rule is "even numbers increasing by two," and we give many series of numbers consistent with the rule, those numbers may also be consistent with other rules as well, such as "even numbers increasing" or "any three numbers increasing." So continually looking for confirming data doesn't get us any closer to the truth. On the other hand, if we choose some numbers that are inconsistent with our hypothesis "even numbers increasing by two," such as 7, 9, 11, and are told that they conform to the rule, we immediately discover that our hypothesis concerning even numbers is incorrect. In effect, if we use a case that disconfirms the rule that we're testing, we can quickly learn more information than if we continue to search for confirming cases. As philosopher Karl Popper indicated, a general hypothesis can never be completely confirmed because we may uncover an exception the next time around. It was once thought that all swans were white, until we found black swans in Australia. To determine if a hypothesis is likely to be true, we should try to prove it false. Why? It's impossible to prove a hypothesis is correct with certainty, but we can disprove it with one observation.14 And so, disconfirming evidence can be very useful in our decision making. The practice of universal loving friendliness is also recommended for bedtime and just after arising. It is said to help you sleep well and to prevent nightmares. It also makes it easier to get up in the morning. And it makes you more friendly and open toward everybody, friend or foe, human or otherwise. The most damaging psychic irritant arising in the mind, particularly at the time when the mind is quiet, is resentment. You may experience indignation remembering some incident that caused you psychological and physical pain. This experience can cause you uneasiness, tension, agitation, and worry.

You might not be able to go on sitting and experiencing this state of mind. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you should start your meditation with generating universal loving friendliness. You may wonder how we can wish: "May my enemies be well, happy, and peaceful; may no difficulties come to them; may no problem come to them; may they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life." You must remember that you practice loving friendliness for the purification of your own mind, just as you practice meditation for your own attainment of peace and liberation from pain and suffering. As you practice loving friendliness within yourself, you can behave in a most friendly manner without biases, prejudices, discrimination, or hate. Your noble behavior enables you to help others in a most practical manner to reduce their pain and suffering. It is compassionate people who can help others. Compassion is a manifestation of loving friendliness in action, for one who does not have loving friendliness cannot help others. Noble behavior means behaving in a most friendly manner. Behavior includes your thought, speech, and actions. If this triple mode of expression of your behavior is contradictory, then something is wrong, and contradictory behavior cannot be noble behavior. In addition, from a pragmatic perspective, it is much better to cultivate the noble thought, "May all beings be happy minded" than the thought, "I hate him." Our noble thought will one day express itself in noble behavior and our spiteful thought in evil behavior. There's plenty of scientific research to back up that statement. Study after study has shown a causative and reinforcing link between runaway anger and depression, among other negative health effects. But, as valuable as that realization is in helping to guide us toward lasting victory over depression, we can't stop there. Anger, you see, is only one part of a triad of feelings that are nearly inseparable and that together can form a slippery slope to deeper and deeper depression. Once someone is in that frame of mind, the downward spiral picks up speed. In Andrew's case, depression prompted unhealthy eating habits, which led to weight gain and deteriorating physical fitness. He started drinking too much, giving him extra reasons to be afraid of losing his wife and his job and for feeling guilty about his powerlessness--all of which points to deeper depression. In my decades of working with people desperate to overcome depression, I have learned that Andrew's story is not at all unusual.

The three deadly emotions of anger, fear, and guilt--and their uncanny ability to fuel one another--are nearly always present to some degree in the hearts and minds of people suffering from depression. Clearly, not everyone has a story as dramatic as Andrew's, but that doesn't matter. Sadly, sometimes the traumas and offenses to which people cling are not even real but only imagined--like the woman who told me she was intensely depressed and angry for months after her sister failed to acknowledge her completion of graduate school, when in fact the postal service had lost a package containing a thoughtful and expensive gift. Also, it's important to notice that everything on this list could just as easily be a source of guilt and fear instead. The interplay between these deadly emotions is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope, each twisted shape blending into the next. For instance, change the circumstances, and anger at a spouse's infidelity becomes guilt for your own, or fear of possible unfaithfulness in the future. Perhaps anger is followed by the guilty feeling that a partner's infidelity is proof there is something desperately wrong with you, leading to the fear that you don't deserve to be happy again. Can you see why thought patterns like these are so detrimental to your mental health? It is difficult to say which comes first, runaway deadly emotions or depression. But in any case, they have a proven and powerfully negative influence on one another. If you are prone to depression for other reasons, these toxic feelings will rob you of the natural resilience you need to keep or regain your balance. Here's the important part for anyone struggling with depression: lasting healing is not possible when unexamined and untended anger, guilt, and fear smolder beneath the surface of your life. They will undermine any progress made on other fronts--such as nutrition, sleep, and exercise--and place a hard limit on what's possible. For this reason, while some traditional treatments for depression ignore these emotions, the whole-person model makes diffusing them a high priority, just as important as any other link in the chain of healing. The real problem comes in with the way our society works. We create complicated systems with certain people specialized in dealing with those systems. It's all fine and good until something breaks and we need that specialist to make a house call. Then, we start thinking in the same way about our social problems. Your boyfriend breaks up with you and you think "I wish someone could fix this problem" instead of thinking "what can I do to fix the problem now or in the future?" You're deferring responsibility for the problem and waiting for a solution to present itself. The easiest path is not to wait for a solution to appear, but to get your hands dirty and create a solution using the tools every one of us has to interact socially.

To be a likable person, you must keep an open mind - allowing yourself to accept what and who other people are on their terms, not yours. The problem is in how we tend to analyze other people. We each have a worldview and ideas of "decency" that have been programmed from birth. When someone doesn't fit that worldview, we judge them on a scale of how far from our ideal perspective they fall. And yet, despite all of that, we've come a long way in recent decades. There once was a time when people would make judgments like this based solely on details of race, gender, religion, or class. Some still do and there is a lot of work left to do. The key here - don't look at someone different than you and say "I don't like that person because of...." This isn't just a matter of race or religion either. People do it with almost every personal trait. They see someone who is a different political affiliation and make judgments about their intelligence. They see someone who enjoys a sport or a certain kind of literature and assume they would have nothing of interest to talk about. Not everyone fits a stereotype - in fact almost no one fits a single stereotype any more. No one is a "country boy" or a "city girl" alone because there are so many influences inundating each of us every day. People are a little bit of everything. And yeah, some people may trend toward one mind set or another, but that doesn't mean you cannot get to know them a bit in turn. Suppose the letters and numbers below are on separate cards. The cards have a number on one side and a letter on the other, and someone tells you: "If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other side." Which of the cards would you need to turn over in order to decide whether the person is lying? As with the other decision strategies discussed here, a confirming strategy can yield correct answers in many cases. We obviously use it extensively, often making many accurate decisions. However, we can also make grossly inaccurate judgments if we rely on confirming data too much.