Thinking clearly isn't something we do naturally. It takes practice to keep your head on straight especially when feelings run high, you're tired, stressed out, busy or preoccupied. Here's a top twelve list of the ways we get it wrong. Your life will be more peaceful, more often and for longer periods of time as you learn to bring these to mind.
- All-Or-Nothing Thinking
You see things in black-and-white categories. For example, if what you do is less than perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
You see one or two events or examples as all there “really” is. For example, one or two bad experiences “prove” a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- Mental Filtering
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it so completely that your view of reality becomes dark, like the drop of ink that colors a whole glass of water.
- Disqualifying the Positive
You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don't count” for some reason or other. In this way, you hang on to a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experience.
- Jumping to Conclusions
You make a negative interpretation of things even though there are no definite facts that convincingly prove your conclusion.
- Mind Reading
You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don't bother to check it out.
- The Fortune Teller Error
You expect things will turn out badly, and then you feel convinced that your prediction is already an established fact.
- Magnifying or Minimizing
You exaggerate the importance of things (like your goof-up, someone else's achievements or the seriousness of your circumstances), or you pooh-pooh things until they seem tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other person’s imperfections). This is like looking through binoculars backwards. Magnifying circumstances is also called catastrophizing.
- Emotional Reasoning
You assume that your negative feelings really do reflect the way things “really” are (with little or no other evidence): “I feel it, therefore it’s true.”
- Should Statements
You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. (“Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders.) You either feel guilty or angry, frustrated, and resentful (especially when you direct should statements toward others).
- Labeling and Mislabeling
This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. “I'm a loser.” When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He's a big fat jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
“It’s all my fault.” You see yourself as the cause of some negative event for which you were not or could not reasonably be considered primarily responsible.
(Adapted from Table 3-1, pp. 40, 41: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
by David D. Burns, M.D. New York: Signet, 1980)