11 Common Errors in Thinking

“I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, but I did get a few solid hours of anxiety in.”

We all can fall prey to errors in thinking – which usually affects our relationships, and our expectations about life. The 11 common errors in thinking include:

1. All –or – Nothing Thinking: This is where the person evaluates themselves, other people, and the world in black and white terms. Thus, it doesn’t allow for grey areas in thinking.  An example of this is: “I’m a terrible spouse.”

 2. Overgeneralizing: This is thinking that because a bad experience happened once, then it’s likely to always be that way in the future. For example, “I know I’ll never get married again as my previous husband had an affair. So, there’s obviously something wrong with me”.

3. Discounting the Positives: This is ignoring the positives and saying they don’t count. For example, generally being liked by your colleagues at work – but not really crediting yourself for that.  You think it’s just because they are nice to everyone.

4. Jumping to Conclusions -This has two aspects to it: mind reading and fortune telling.

(i) Mind reading is thinking you can tell what other people think without any evidence of what’s in their minds. For example, a person who struggles with anxiety assumes her friends think she lacks important social skills, or is boring, and is lacking in personality.

(ii) Fortune telling is predicting that the future will turn out badly – even when you’ve no real reason to reach that conclusion. For example, going for a routine mammogram and concluding the results are going to show that you have cancer.

5. Magnifying / Minimising: This is evaluating the importance of a negative event, or the lack of evidence of a positive event, in an extreme or distorted way. (Blowing things out of proportion.) For example, concluding that your husband doesn’t love you anymore because he forgot your anniversary.

6. Emotional Reasoning: This is firmly believing that something is true – simply based on your feelings that it must be true. For example, when your boyfriend arrives an hour late for a film, you conclude that means he isn’t interested in you. You discount the fact that the traffic might be heavy and he’s actually been sitting in a traffic jam.

7. Labelling: This is using a label in broad global terms. For example, a friend says or does something thoughtless to you – so you label that person as “a terrible friend”. You then interpret everything they say or do in the future from this harsh, unforgiving, and negative perspective.

8. Personalization and blame: This is where a person completely blames themselves for something that’s gone wrong – when it is not their fault. For example, a soccer team member thinks the coach is upset because she missed an important goal. She discounts the fact he may have been annoyed before he even arrived for the game.

The opposite is going to the other extreme and completely putting the blame on someone else. For example, a man may blame his wife for the breakup of their marriage, and may not be willing to admit he played a role.

9. Catastrophizing (Similar to fortune telling): This is dwelling on the worst outcome possible. For example, an employee had to do a presentation at work and became obsessed with it being a flop. He then started to worry that he’d lose his job … and that would then lead him to losing his home, too.

10. Making “should” or “must” statements:  This is where the person has fixed ideas of how they, others, and life should be. These are then turned into fixed and rigid demands. Thus, when the person’s disappointed (which inevitably happens) they over-react, and get extremely upset. For example, a mother falls apart when her son fails as exam – as she thinks he should always get high marks in everything.

11. Selective abstraction: This is dwelling on one negative comment or detail – instead of looking at the bigger picture. For example, a woman gets a haircut which her friends say they love. However, one of her friends says they preferred her old style. She then thinks about that comment for hours and hours – despite being complimented by her other friends.

On reflection … Which of the above do you tend to struggle with?

Now, think about how you can challenge these thought patterns when you find you are a victim of these very common errors.  

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