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6 Thinking errors and their destructive impact

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Have you ever wondered why you feel bad about yourself, why you beat yourself up over an event or something you said? Have you ever wondered why you get so annoyed with other people when they haven’t really done anything to deserve it? The answer is thinking errors, ways of processing events and situations that become destructive patterns.

We all have ways of making sense of the world, we need to employ a system to make things make sense to us but sometimes our thinking becomes flawed. These flaws are known as cognitive distortions. David Burns popularised the theory of cognitive distortions or what are commonly known as ANT’s – Automatic Negative Thoughts, ways in which our thinking can sabotage our happiness, outcomes and sometimes our relationships.

Here are 6 common thinking errors – see which ones you fall prey to

  1. Filtering

Filtering occurs when we focus on a particular part of a message or event, usually the negative part. We take the negative details and magnify them whilst filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, someone receiving feedback may focus only on the negative elements whilst ignoring the positive elements. This of course can lead to a dark or distorted view of ourselves or a situation.

  1. Overgeneralization

This happens when we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. Thinking such as “I’m never doing that again!” when we speak up at a meeting and our contribution is ignored means we then shy away from similar situations.

  1. Mind reading

This involves thinking we know what another person is feeling and thinking and why they act the way they do. For example, we may conclude that someone doesn’t like us but don’t actually bother to find out if we are correct. Another example is jumping to conclusions such as ‘They’re just lazy’ when in fact the other person’s behavior may reflect a lack of time management skills.

  1. Over processing

This is very common. We over-think scenario’s, replay conversations, keep going over the same ground time and time again. Playing out in our minds what we should have done or said or over analyzing an interaction trying to mind read what was going on for the other person.

  1. Catastrophizing

This involves blowing risks or negative consequences out of proportion. In this distortion, we may hear about or see a problem and imagine the absolute worst occurring. eg After hearing the lifts need servicing we might think “What if the lift stops mid floor and I’m stranded, that would be my worst nightmare!’

Furthermore, we might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events such as mistakes “Oh no! Everyone’s going to find out I made an error and think I’m incompetent” These thinking errors cause stress, worry and negativity.

  1. Self blame

Self blame is a distortion where we believe that the things other people do or say are as a direct consequence of us. We take things personally and blame ourselves for negative outcomes. If a team presentation didn’t hit the mark, we may think “It was all my fault”


It’s not surprising if we’re using faulty thinking, we’re going to feel bad about ourselves and others. So what can we do to lessen these ANTs or thinking errors?

1. Identify the thinking error

Identify and track the cognitive distortions in your daily thinking first, before you start working to change them. We can do this by creating a list of the ANTs we experience throughout the day.

2. Examine the Evidence

Much like a judge overseeing a trial, the next step is to remove yourself from the emotionality of the upsetting event or episode of irrational thinking in order to examine the evidence more objectively. Look at individual thoughts connected to the event, and objectively decide whether those statements reflect an opinion or stone cold fact. For example, statements such as “I’m selfish” and “There’s something wrong with me” are opinions. “My co-worker spoke in angry voice toward me” and “I forgot to send those documents” are facts.

3. Use a different strategy

  • Be nice to yourself

An alternative to “self-talk” that is harsh and demeaning is to talk to ourselves in the same compassionate and caring way that we would talk with a friend in a similar situation. We are frequently much harder on ourselves than the people we care about in our lives. Imagine preparing for a presentation and telling a friend, “You’re going to screw this up, just like you screw everything else up!” Yet this is often what we tell ourselves. Instead how about saying “You’re well prepared, you’ll be fine”

  • Get someone else’s perspective

If you want to double-check on the rationality of your thought, check in with a few trusted friends or colleagues to see what their opinions and experiences are.

By following these guidelines you can lessen your thinking errors and start to feel better about yourself and others. For more information about wellbeing contact


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JEM Management Training

JEM Management Training designs and delivers flexible, in-house management training courses to help  organisations in Perth engage their staff fully in the workplace.

As time is often limited, JEM Training offers flexible half-day management training courses which focus on a specific area of management expertise. These short courses build upon each other over a period of time, chosen by you, to provide ongoing management development.

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