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The Mind’s Strange Ways

Psychology ONE Thinking Errors

Our minds are amazing, filling our days with up to 70,000 thoughts.  Thoughts can be good or uncomfortable, or in the case of the majority of them, fairly mundane.  Sometimes we get stuck on thoughts, for example, in the case of anxiety when we constantly worry about something concerning.  But in fact, just because we can think it, does not make it true.  There are many thoughts which pop up which might actually be a “thinking error”.  Thinking errors can leave us with difficult feelings, such as guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety etc. Here are some of the more common thinking errors:

  • Catastrophising – thinking the worst will happen without actual evidence, for example, “I am going to lose my job”.
  • Mind-Reading – believing that you know what someone else is thinking, for example, “My friend thought I was stupid when I forgot our coffee catch-up”.  Nobody can read minds and most times this thought comes up without considering the actual cues of the situation. 
  • Black-or-White Thinking – seeing things as polarised, for example, all good or all bad.  Often occurring when people go on a diet, “I have eaten a piece of cake, so I have totally blown my diet”. 
  • Fortune-telling – Nobody has a crystal ball but the mind has a way of telling us that we can foresee the future.  For example, “I will mess up in the exam tomorrow” is a prediction of something pessimistic.  There may be reasons to think this but in reality there are always several different outcomes. 
  • Unrealistic comparison – Exactly as it says, this is comparing ourselves unrealistically and negatively to someone else, such as “I should be able to play the piano like that” in comparison to someone who has trained for years longer.  The negative comparison erodes our self-esteem and reduces motivation to continue working towards our realistic goals.
  • Overgeneralising – This is generalising our negative traits to all of our behaviour, or to others’ behaviours.  For example, “I am always so bad at cooking” after burning one pot of potatoes.  Or “My friend never understands me”.
  • Personalisation – This is thinking the world revolves around us, such as considering that other’s feelings are because of something we have said or done.  For example, believing that a co-worker is irritated because she doesn’t like working with us. 
  • Filtering Out the Positive – Disregarding the positive in spite of evidence to the contrary, such as considering the one bad thing that occurred in the day, when there have been several good things.  An example might be that “bad things comes in threes” and just focusing on three bad things rather than other good things in between.
  • Jumping to conclusions – Considering that we know what others think and feel.  Similar to fortune-telling but related to others, such as seeing someone looking at us and considering that they “think I look ugly” or that they “must think I am weird”. 
  • Shoulds and musts – Self explanatory, these are rules about how we ought to behave, and which result in guilt if we don’t follow the rules or anger if directed towards others.  For example, “I should exercise more” or “My partner should remember my brother’s birthday”.


Once you recognize some of your thoughts to be thinking errors, you can begin trying to challenge those thoughts. Look for exceptions to the rule and gather evidence that your thoughts aren’t 100% true (“evidence”). Then, you can begin replacing them with more balanced thoughts.  You don’t want to replace negative thoughts with overly idealistic or positive ones (this creates a bit of a mental argument). Instead, replace them with more realistic thoughts. Changing the way you think takes a lot of effort initially, but with practice, you’ll notice some good changes. After a while the more balanced thoughts become the norm and it becomes easier.  The effort is well worth it; as your thoughts become more balanced, your outlook on life changes to a more positive mindset and this flows on to better mood. 

Sources: Psychology Today

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Sharon Connell

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