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  • Understanding Common Thinking Errors

    We all in our lives have felt anxious.

    From school work and deadlines to major life choices and events, we have experienced the feelings of unease, fear, and anticipation. 

    Thousands of thoughts may race through our mind in the moment but once the situation has ended, most of the time we are able to move forward.

    However, there are instances where we all have gotten stuck in our thoughts, brainstorming potential worst case scenarios, trying to predict the future, and spending a good chunk of time trying to reach a resolution.

    Sometimes we’ll keep replaying the same thought over and over again.

    At some point in our life, our brain has led us into extreme and irrational thinking that can often fuel how we’re feeling in that moment and exacerbate our anxieties.

    These extreme and irrational thoughts can be defined as “thinking errors” and are more common than most people think. While our irrational thoughts may feel nebulous and difficult to explain, they often fall into common categories of thinking errors.

    The 10 most common thinking errors include:

    All or Nothing Thinking – Also called black and white thinking, this thinking error often feels that there can be a right or wrong in a given situation or that things are 0 or 100. Often all or nothing thinking will include words such as “always, never”

    Example: “I have to do well on this test or else I’m a failure, I always make mistakes.”

    Catastrophizing – As mentioned earlier, our brain will sometimes jump to the worse case scenario. Catastrophizing only focuses on all the potential negative outcomes of a situation.

    Example: “My friend didn’t text me back, she must be mad at me and doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.”

    Overgeneralizing – Sometimes we’ll experience one bad event and it will ruin our experience moving forward. Overgeneralizing causes us to make broad assumptions of how things will go in the future based on a single or few events.

    Example: “I said something stupid at our last meeting, I just won’t say anything anymore.”

    Fortune Telling – The future can be scary and unpredictable and our brain will often make assumptions about what’s ahead. Fortune Telling is predicting into the future that things will turn out badly.

    Example: “I’ll be alone forever, there’s no way I can be successful.”

    Mind Reading – We can worry about what other people think, whether it be about us or a situation. Mind reading leads us to try and interpret what others are thinking and feeling without any evidence.

    Example: “She must think I’m annoying.”

    Negative Filter/Disqualifying the Positive – Often times there are positive and negative parts of a situation. Negative Filter focuses only on the negative aspects of a given situation.

    Example: “I got praise in my yearly review but they said I need to speak up more, I’m such a failure.”

    “Should” Statements – The phrase “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” best describes this thinking error. Should statements are beliefs that things should have gone a certain way.

    Example: “I should have read through that email, now I look like an idiot.”

    Personalization – Sometimes it feels easier to take the blame for something completely out of our control. Personalization makes us feel that we are responsible for things that may be influenced by other factors.

    Example: “I could have tried harder, I’m the reason why our team lost.”

    Emotional Reasoning – Our emotions can often fuel our thoughts and vice versa. Emotional Reasoning rationalizes that our feelings are evidence and reflect how things are in reality.

    Example: “I feel like a bad person, so I must be a bad person.”

    Labeling – We all have conceptions and biases about ourselves and others. Labeling is creating broad labels about ourselves or others in a negative way.

    Example: “I’m an idiot, why did I do that?”

    There are other thinking errors that we fall into and often the first step in being able to better understand our thoughts and manage our anxieties can be identifying the thinking errors in our thoughts.

    If you feel you struggle with any of these thinking patterns and would like help understanding and untangling your thoughts, CBT may be helpful for you. 

    Please contact us to see if we can help assist you.

    Melissa Aristoza is an Associate Clinical Social Worker experienced in providing CBT for individuals dealing with: OCD, Generalized Anxiety, Specific Phobias, Panic, Social Anxiety and Depression. She supports children, teens, families, and adults in navigating through their mental health journey and assisting them in achieving their personal goals.