Thinking errors are negative/unhelpful thoughts that taint our view and affect our judgment of situations. When we are stressed, chances are we are caught up in thinking errors. These are patterns of relating and seeing the world. Most probably, these are patterns we learned since childhood. Therefore, changing these thinking errors takes time and effort.
If we don’t realize what patterns we are engaging in, then we cannot do anything about them. So, the first step in changing them is to recognize the thinking patterns you fall prey to. There’s a concept in the psychology field called a reframe. It’s a wonderful little tool that can have enormous positive effects in the way you see the world. I think a separate post for this would be best, but for the purpose of helping you change a thinking error, let’s briefly define it. In essence, reframing is a way to change your view/concept of a situation in a new light – to change the meaning. This takes tremendous mental commitment and intention but it has wonderful effects.
There are three steps to reframe a thinking error: (1) Recognize your default thinking error, (2) Acknowledge it (catch yourself), and (3) Reframe it in a more positive view. Following is a list of the ten thinking errors. Try to see if any of these are your default when you find yourself under stress.
Remember that these are ingrained patterns of seeing the world and yourself, so be patient. The more you practice reframing, the more you will see things in a lighter perspective. Change is not a destination, but a journey. Enjoy the process!
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
You find it difficult to see the middle ground. You see things in two categories: black or white.
- Ex: People are good or bad, trustworthy or untrustworthy, right or wrong, etc. Eating a spoonful of ice cream and saying, “That’s it, I blew my diet. I might as well just eat the rest of the ice cream.”
- Reframe it: Imagine a third option in between the two extremes. “It’s okay if I had a spoonful of ice cream. I have a choice to stop now. I will refocus on my goal.”
You see a single negative event as the norm. You speak the language of absolutes: always, never, nobody, and everybody.
- Ex: In response to a bad date, a woman says, “All men are jerks! I’m never going to find the right person.”
- Reframe it: Looking for exceptions to the rule. “This guy was rude, but there’s respectful guys out there. The right guy will come. I just need to be patient.”
3. Mental Filter
You dwell on a single negative detail. You tend to judge yourself, a situation, or others based on a small negative detail without looking at the entire situation.
- Ex: After you give a presentation, your boss and co-workers compliment you, but you obsess on one critique, ignoring the positive feedback. “Why would he say that about my presentation? I should have prepared more.”
- Correct it by: Look at the entire picture. “My boss and co-workers gave me good feedback. I will take the critique and do better next time.”
4. Discounting the Positive
You insist positive experiences don’t count by rejecting them. You turn something positive into a negative.
- Ex: Someone is kind to you and you say, “She wouldn’t be kind if she really knew what I’m like” or “She’s being nice because she wants a favor.”
- Reframe it: Recognize and accept the positives as they are. Challenge the negative thought with factual evidence (what you do know). “She’s a kind person. She may not know all about me, but she likes what I did.”
5. Jumping to Conclusions
You mind read are predict without facts to support your conclusion.
- Ex: Someone at church passes you without saying hi and you think, “He’s avoiding me” or “He doesn’t like me,” and “You’ll see he will ignore me again next week.”
- Reframe it: Look for other explanations. Ask yourself, “How do I know he doesn’t like me?” “Do I really know what he is thinking?” “He didn’t see me. I will make sure to make eye contact next time.
6. Minimizing and Maximizing
You exaggerate the significance of negative aspects, while minimizing positive, desirable qualities.
- Ex: You made gravy for the first time and say, “The meal was horrible because the gravy was too salty.”
- Reframe it: Choosing your words to get a better perspective and focusing on what did work. “Ok, the gravy was a bit salty for my taste, but I tried my best and everyone finished the main course.”
7. Emotional Reasoning
Your negative emotions override the facts (the way things really are). For example, a person will say, “It feels like this depression will never end; therefore it must be so,” or “I’m scared of flying; therefore it must be unsafe.”
- Ex: You think, “It’s not safe to fly because I feel anxious. Something horrible is going to happen. I just know it. I feel it.”
- Reframe it: Know the difference between a thought and a feeling. You think (believe) that you are not safe. You feel anxious. “My feelings are not facts. I don’t really know that something bad is going to happen. My nerves are getting the best of me. When I’m calm I will be able to think clearly.”
8. Should Statements
You tell yourself that they “should or must” be the way you hoped or expected them to be, instead of accepting things as they are.
- Ex: When a friend calls you venting about her problem, you think, “I should help her. I must help her or I’m a bad friend.”
- Reframe it: Look for exceptions. Question the validity of your statements (the shoulds, musts, and oughts). “Why do I think I need to help her?” “I am helping her by listening and being there. I don’t always have to help or rescue people.”
This is an extreme form of all or nothing thinking, which labels self or others. These are unhelpful abstractions that attack a person’s character leading to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and dehumanization.
- Ex: You make a mistake and say, “I’m a loser.” Someone disappoints you and you say, “He’s s jerk.” This includes profanity, “S.O.B.”
- Reframe it: Look at the behavior not the person. This helps to have a wider perspective of the situation vs. scrutinizing a person’s character or personhood (or your own). “I made a mistake, but I can learn from it.
10. Personalization and Blame
Holding yourself responsible for an event that’s out of your control or blaming another person for the way things are.
- Ex: “It’s my fault my friends didn’t enjoy the movie.” “My marriage is falling apart because my spouse is jerk.”
- Reframe it: Look at what is in your control and what’s not. If you made a mistake, decide what you will do to solve for it versus finding more faults within yourself. Ask yourself, “How am I responsible for my friends not liking the movie?” “I chose the movie, but they all agreed to it. I didn’t write the screenplay.” “My marriage is not in the best shape. What is my part and what is my husband’s?”
What thinking errors do you need to address? I know I tend to jump into conclusions and have to re-group in order to get a clearer sense of the situation. Sometimes, I allow my feelings to lead versus looking at the facts and taking it slow. Most of us struggle with some of these thinking errors. Remember to practice catching the thinking errors and reframing them. Two questions to ask yourself are, “How does God see this situation or person?” and “What does he have to say about this?”
I would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to connecting with you.
For more unhelpful thinking styles in a photo format (for those that enjoy pics more than words), visit my Facebook page and check out the Albums under Photos section.