11 Common Errors in Thinking


According to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, we often feel anxious, upset and annoyed because of certain errors in our thinking. These are faulty ways of looking at life which are automatic - and also very common. However, if we identify and change our way of thinking then our feelings are reactions will be much healthier. These errors in thinking include the following:

1. All –or – Nothing Thinking: Where the person evaluates themselves, others, situations and the world in extreme categories. It doesn’t allow for grey areas in thinking.  “I’m a terrible parent.”

2. Overgeneralizing: Thinking that because a bad experience happened once, then that’s the way it’s always going to be. For example, “I know I’ll fail my driving test. I’ve already failed it three times”.

3. Discounting the Positives: Ignoring the positive aspects of a situation and saying that they don’t count. For example, generally getting  good marks in school – but not praising yourself for that. One paper gets some negative feedback and you tell yourself you’re a useless student. The positive results are ignored.

4. Jumping to Conclusions -This has two aspects to it: mind reading and fortune telling.

(i) Mind reading is thinking you know what others are thinking without any evidence. For example, a person with social anxiety assumes her colleagues think she’s useless at her job.

(ii) Fortune telling is predicting that the future will turn out badly. For example, going for a routine mammogram and concluding that you have cancer.

5. Magnifying / Minimising: Evaluating the importance of a negative event, or the lack of evidence of a positive event, in a distorted manner. (Blowing things out of proportion.) For example, concluding that your sister doesn’t like you anymore because she forgot to send a  birthday card.

6. Emotional Reasoning: Believing that something must be true because it feels true. For example, when your boyfriend is an hour late in arriving for a film, you conclude that he isn’t interested in you. You discount the fact that, maybe, the bus was late, or he was delayed at work.

7. Labelling: Using a label (bad mother, idiot) to describe a behaviour - and then taking on board everything associated with that label. Seeing things is global terms. For example, a friend says or does something thoughtless. You label then them as “a terrible friend” and now you interpret anything they say in a hostile and negative way.

8. Personalization and blame: Where a person totally blames themselves for something that’s gone wrong when it is not their fault. For example, a soccer team member thinks she’s “put the coach in a bad mood” because she missed a goal. She discounts the fact that the coach may have been annoyed before the game started. The opposite is to totally blame another for something. For example, a wife may blame her husband for the break up of their marriage and not admit that she had any part in it.

9. Catastrophizing: (Similar to fortune telling) Dwelling on the worst possible outcome. For example, an employee had to do a presentation. He became obsessed with thoughts of performing badly, letting the company down, losing his job, then losing his home and family.

10. Making “should” or “must” statements:  Where the person has a fixed idea of how they, others or life should be. These become “rigid demands”. When they person is disappointed (as will inevitably happen) they become very upset and overestimate how bad this will be for them. For example, a student berates themselves for only getting 89% in an exam – when they wanted all their results to be in the 90s.

11. Selective abstraction: Dwelling on one negative detail instead of seeing the bigger picture. For example, a girl gets a haircut and 8 of her friends say they love it. One person says they preferred her old style. The girl thinks about that for hours and hours and wonders if she should have changed her hairstyle.