Most people don’t think about how they think; if their thoughts are healthy, helpful or constructive in their day-to-day life. But you should! Why? Because your thoughts (what you think) determine your emotions (how you feel) and your actions.
A foundational principle of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is that the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes you hold have a big effect on the way you interpret the world around you and on how you feel. Put simply, if you are feeling overly negative, then it’s probably because you are thinking negatively.
Thinking errors are slips in thinking and we all do it from time to time especially when we are emotionally overwhelmed. So how do you spot unhelpful thoughts? I have put a list of the most common ‘faulty’ and unhelpful ways of thinking.
Thinking that a negative situation is part of a constant cycle of bad things that happen. People who overgeneralize often use words like “always” or “never”, “every” , ‘people are … the world is…”
Example: I wanted to go to the beach, but it’s starting to rain. This always happens to me when I make plans to do fun things!
Black and White Thinking
Seeing things as only right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or terrible. This is extreme thinking that can lead to extreme emotions and behaviours. People who think in black and white terms see a small mistake as a total failure.
Example: I wanted to lose weight and eat healthier, but I just caved in and ate a doughnut. This plan is ruined and I’m a total failure! I might as well eat the other 5 doughnuts.
Predicting that something bad will happen, without any supporting evidence.
Example: I’ve been putting in long hours on this project at work, but I know my manager is going to find fault with it and criticise me tomorrow.
Believing that bad feelings or emotions reflect the situation.
Example: I get scared when I fly, so airplanes must not be safe.
Saying only negative things about yourself or other people.
Example: I made an error in my meeting presentation. I’m stupid! My boss told me that I made a mistake. My boss is a jerk!
‘Should’ & ‘must’ Statements
Telling yourself how you or others “should” or “must” act. This thinking is often problematic because it is extreme and rigid.
Example: I am always kind and considerate to my work colleagues so they should be kind back to me!
Jumping to the conclusion that others are thinking negative things about you, or have negative motives and intentions without having any concrete evidence.
Example: I saw her look at me and then turned to her friend to whisper something. She’s gossiping about me. I just know it.
Having a bias in the way you process information, in which you acknowledge only the bits that fit in with a belief you hold, and ignoring the rest.
Example: I met a lot of great people at the party, but one guy didn’t talk to me. There must be something wrong with me.
Low frustration tolerance
It assumes when something is difficult to tolerate, it is ‘intolerable’. This thinking magnifies a person’s inability to tolerate temporarily unpleasant feelings or stressful situations, even when it’s in their best interest to do so for longer term benefits.
Example: I really need to start my budget report but I will do later, I’m not in the mood right now. I will do it when I’m feeling in a better mood.
You predict from one small relatively minor negative event that the worst-case scenario will unfold without considering other potential outcomes.
Example: You have a disagreement with your partner and decide that this means you are not suited to one another or that he will decide to break up with you.
This thinking involves interpreting events as being related to you personally to the exclusion of other factors. This leads to emotional difficulties such as feeling hurt or even guilty.
Example: If I was her good friend, I’d be able to cheer her up. I’m obviuously not, and have let her down.
By identify which thinking error you tend to use the most, can be a helpful way to challenge them, and put them straight with healthier ways to think.
Remember – if you can name it, you can tame it.