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Anxious and Overwhelmed? Let’s Start With Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

How you interpret your experiences will have a significant impact on the way you feel about them. If you can change your perceptions of your experiences, you can change the way they make you feel. 

How Our Perceptions and Interpretations Effect Out Feelings

This is far from earth-shattering news. It is the basic premise of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a modality in which the therapist works with the client to restructure or reframe maladaptive thought patterns (Beck, 2020). CBT has been demonstrated to be highly effective for many different conditions including substance abuse, depression, and anxiety — issues in which folks can identify with now more than ever.

So, if our interpretations of our experiences affect our feelings, what impacts our interpretations?

Factors such as past experiences, current feelings, and beliefs impact the way we think about the world. To provide an example of how interpretations can differ based on one’s profession, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, describes an example posed by Stanford University professor and biologist Robert Sapolsky:

Let’s start with the question: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

  1. According to an Evolutionary Biologist “The chicken crossed the road because they saw a potential mate on the other side” (Clear, 2020).
  2. According to a Kinesiologist, “The chicken crossed the road because the muscles in the leg contracted and pulled the leg bone forward during each step” (Clear, 2020).
  3. According to the Neuroscientist, “The chicken crossed the road because the neurons in the chicken’s brain fired and triggered the movement” (Clear, 2020).

And maybe the Therapist (I added this one) would say that the chicken crossed the road because they were dissatisfied with their current situation and were in search of something that was better aligned with their goals and values. 

No one is necessarily wrong. Rather, the biologist, kinesiologist, neuroscientist, and therapist have different belief structures and use different mental models when analyzing and interpreting their experiences, hence the different responses. If we asked an athlete, lawyer, and doctor this question, I suspect we would get an even wider variety of answers. 

It should be noted that this example only considered the different interpretations based on profession, but we could consider interpretations based on an endless number of human experiences and preferences. Again, no one would be necessarily wrong, but have different ways of looking at it. 


Rarely can one person provide the complete picture. It could be that the chicken crossed the road for several different reasons, some of which may even be unbeknownst to them!

When interpreting a situation, especially one with ambiguity, we need to be cognizant that our own understanding is incomplete and one of many. With that awareness we can focus on becoming more cognitively flexible — being able to utilize multiple mental models and consider a wide range of perspectives when assessing a situation. Of course, this is way easier said than done.

A therapist can not only provide a helpful outside perspective, but also facilitate your acquisition of additional mental models. This can be especially useful when you are faced with a situation that is difficult, fluid, and complex. Moreover, by actively listening to others, educating ourselves, and staying open to new ideas we can get a more comprehensive understanding of our experiences. 

If you would like to connect with a Chicago counselor to get support in your mental health journey, explore our counseling services online, and call Symmetry Counseling today (312)-578-9990 or reach out to us online to get started.


Beck, J. S. (2020). Cognitive behavior therapy (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.

Clear, J. (2020, February 4). How to train your brain to think in new ways. James Clear. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from

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