Thinking errors happen regularly to many of us. These “errors” are faulty ways of thinking that can cause us to feel defeated and bring on unwanted emotional behaviors and feelings. Being strong mentally can be challenging at times and requires you to manage the way you’re thinking, control your emotions and the way you’re feeling and act responsibly and adequately despite what is going on around you. You may be the type of person who struggles in these areas and find this difficult, but more often than not, the overriding factor is the way we think. How you think, handle, and react to a situation is essential.
It’s easy for many people to get inside their heads and begin to overthink a situation. They may even anticipate an outcome before anything has even started. Sometimes that inner voice is hard to overcome, and it directs us in the wrong direction. It can cause problems with work, relationships, and other aspects of your life.
About 5 years ago, a health care professional shared with me these 10 common thinking errors and ways to challenge them. I reference these daily when I catch myself thinking a certain way. It’s not always easy to do, but it has helped me in many a situation. These are good for anyone, young and old!
10 Common Thinking Errors and How To Overcome Them
Black and White Thinking
Thinking in black and white is thinking that everything is either good or bad, there is no in-between. You’re either great, or you’re a loser. People are good and bad, and life is filled with either successes or losses. You do not see shades of gray. It is one way or the other. When you think in black and white, you can’t see any benefits from a loss or a failure.
Try to look for shades of grey. It’s important to avoid thinking about things in terms of extremes. Most things aren’t black and white. Usually, they are somewhere in-between.
- Is it so bad, or do I see things in black-and-white?
- How else can I think about the situation?
- Am I taking an extreme view?
Unreal ideal/unfair to compare
Making unfair comparisons between specific individuals and yourself. You compare yourself to people who have a particular advantage in some areas. Making unfair comparisons can leave you feeling inadequate. Looking at your neighbor who drives a sports car and thinking, “I should have that too,” isn’t helpful. Don’t measure your life against someone else’s, commit to focusing on you, and how you plan on achieving success. It also helps to be grateful for what you do have.
- Am I comparing myself with people who have a particular advantage?
- Am I making fair comparisons?
- What am I thankful for?
When you filter, you hone in on the negative aspects of your situation, and you ignore or dismiss all the positive aspects. You could have a day where 5 things went your way, but one didn’t, and this becomes “a bad day.” You didn’t have a bad day you just had one bump in the road.
You need to consider the whole picture. Aim for balance and notice the positives and the negatives.
- Am I looking at the negatives while ignoring the positives?
- Is there a more balanced way to look at this?
When you personalize, you feel responsible for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s not your fault. People who personalize think that the world revolves around them. Every teenager has dealt with this at some point in their life while they wait to hear back from a boyfriend or girlfriend. “He/she doesn’t like me anymore, and they aren’t calling me back.” There are a million reasons why the person may not be calling, don’t automatically jump to the negative.
- Am I really to blame?
- What other explanations might there be for this situation?
Seeing the future
We are not fortune tellers, nor can we predict the future. We’ve all heard someone say, ” I don’t bother to go on diets because I only gain the weight back.” Thinking like this is only setting yourself up for failure. You’ve already put the negative thought in your head that dieting is a waste of time because you gain the weight back. Perhaps you gain the weight back because you don’t stick to your diet.
These “fortune tellers” are the doom and gloom people you run into daily. Don’t focus on the negatives that can happen but instead focus on the positive.
- What is the evidence? How do I know what other people are thinking?
- Just because I assume something, does that mean I’m right?
When you catastrophize, you exaggerate the consequences when things go wrong, and you imagine that things are or will be disastrous. The catastrophizer believes things are always worse than they are. “I can’t believe I’m not married yet. I’m going to die alone”. Remember that your situation is only temporary and can always be changed.
For me, this is my most common thinking error. I think it’s because of all my years being in sales and dealing with rejection.
- What’s the worst thing that can happen and the best thing that can happen?
- What’s most likely to happen?
- Will this matter in five years?
- Is there anything good about the situation?
- Is there any way to fix the situation?
It can be easy to get swept up into catastrophizing a situation once your thoughts become negative.
When you overgeneralize, you exaggerate the frequency of negative things in your life, like mistakes, disapproval, and failures. “I’ll never close another sale again.” Have you ever had an altercation with someone in a city you’re visiting and caught yourself saying, “Everyone in this city is rude.” That’s not necessarily the case, you’ve just run into one rude person.
- Am I overgeneralizing?
- What are the facts, and what are my interpretations?
Fact versus feeling/thinking
Sometimes you might confuse your thought or feelings with reality. You might assume, “If I feel like a loser, I must be a loser.” These feelings aren’t based on facts; they are just feelings.
- Am I confusing my feelings with the facts just because I am feeling this way?
- Am I thinking this way just because I am feeling bad right now?
When you use labeling you take one characteristic or fault of a person, and apply it to the whole person. Instead of thinking, “He made a mistake,” you might call your co-worker “an idiot.” You are basing your labeling of the person on one individual incident.
- What are the facts, and what are my interpretations?
- Just because there is something that I’m not happy with, does that mean that I’m totally no good? ?
Can’t stand “itis”
People can become very intolerant when they have things to do they don’t enjoy. They tell themselves they can’t stand certain things instead of just acknowledging that they don’t enjoy them. As a result, they very quickly become frustrated and angry. We call this can’t stand “itis.”
You need to accept that frustration is a normal part of life and that we can’t always get what we want. Be open to new situations, and you might find that what you thought you couldn’t stand, you enjoy.
The most important step is recognizing these common thinking errors as they are occurring. Once you recognize these thinking errors, you can begin to challenge your way of thinking and correct the patterns. Your end-goal should be to replace negative thoughts with realistic ones. Changing your way of thinking and recognizing your thinking errors won’t happen overnight; it takes time.
Don’t get frustrated, be patient, and you will see changes in your mental state. If you’d like to read more about the topic, check out David Burns’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and download our free Thinking Errors Worksheet
Do you ever find yourself falling into the trap of one or more of these thinking errors? Comment below.