In the previous module, we started looking at thinking errors and significantly, how they can affect how we feel and then behave.
We’ll continue in this module and begin to explore specific types of thinking errors, looking at two types – what we call ‘catastrophising’ and ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking.
As a reminder – these thinking-errors are simply a consequence of what you say to yourself following various events in your life – it’s the dialogue you use many times every day – so it’s worth training yourself to know when these thinking errors happen, being able to acknowledge them and then having the skills to change that way of thinking.
So let’s take a detailed look at the most common thinking errors and whilst we go through these, see if you recognise any of them in yourself.
Thinking Error 1: Catastrophising.
This is quite an extreme type of thinking error typified by a
“The end of the world is nigh” attitude!
This is where a small disappointment becomes a disaster in your mind.
For example, you’re out at a social event and you can’t find your keys – You think that someone has stolen them and is probably robbing your house right now, they’ll take the car and all of your jewelry and then your chequebook – they’ll clear out your accounts – disaster! They’ll be wrecking your house…you start to get overly anxious worried until you realise that you actually put them in a side pocket in your new bag!
Another example might be at work, after making a comment in a meeting, you think you made a complete fool of yourself and it was a disaster.
You start to think everyone at work thinks you’re stupid and you may even lose your job. As a result, you react to the imagined catastrophe with a feeling of dread rather than putting what really happened into perspective.
– you said something inappropriate that, in fact, not many people even noticed and even if they did was no big deal – they’ve all done similar things in the past and actually felt pleased it wasn’t them again. They actually felt for you rather than thinking you a fool!
Catastrophising is the hallmark of anxious people – it combines pessimism – thinking the worst will happen – with a wildly exaggerated sense of threat.
Things will not only be bad – they’ll be really bad. People who catastrophise find it hard to appraise situations realistically, so they can end up becoming just as distressed by a relatively trivial setback as they can with something quite major.
They constantly imagine really bad futures and significantly allow their imaginations to run wild with all sorts of negative scenarios that could happen – however unlikely these thoughts are.
They also rarely take into account the resources they have to deal with the worst-case scenarios or any experiences they might draw on when they dealt with similar situations and events in the past.
If you tend to think in this way – the next time you get that first catastrophic thought ask yourself three questions
- In comparison to other bad things that might have happened to me, where does this sit?
- If I had to deal with the worst thing that might happen what would I actually do?
- How have I dealt with other difficult situations and what helped me then?
You’ll find yourself in a much nicer place by asking yourself these questions and coming up with factual answers.
Thinking Error 2: All or nothing thinking otherwise referred to as polarised or rigid thinking
“It’s all black and white”
People who think this way see things as black and white with nothing in between. You’re fat or you’re thin, smart or stupid, depressed or happy –
In sport, you either win or you lose. and so on.
There is no in-between.
Gradual progress is never enough – only a complete change will do.
“Who cares if I only did half of it? It’s still not finished!”
So in sport, for example, a performer takes no credit after playing very well against a tough opponent because they failed to win
– so they see themselves as a failure rather than seeing what may have been their best ever performance against a better opponent on that day.
Another example of this type of irrational thinking is a track and field athlete who smashes her PB in a race only to be disappointed at losing to her rival.
She takes no credit from her performance – or all the training she put into making such a big improvement – and that’s a shame because this type of thinking becomes demotivating rather than empowering and confidence is lost when it should be enhanced.
Similarly, someone on a diet who eats some ice cream might tell themselves –
“I’ve blown it! I knew I couldn’t stick to my diet”.
People who think in this way are likely to create all kinds of problems for themselves psychologically.
The fact is most of the things we concern ourselves with in everyday life are not black and white – there are loads of shades of grey.
Life isn’t as simple as YES or NO – or ‘it worked’ or ‘it didn’t’.
People who tend to be strong-minded in their polarised thinking also tend to have strong moral judgments and self-evaluations that can end up causing distress
– they also enjoy trying to impose their beliefs on others or are highly critical of anyone who doesn’t hold the same strong beliefs.
This type of thinking is prevalent with people who hold racist or sexist views.
That said, if you feel you’re sometimes prone to a mild case of ‘black and white’ or what’s also called ‘rigid’ thinking, try to watch out for when you use the words ‘ought, should or must’ and challenge yourself to view things on a scale rather than just looking at the ends –
So, and as another example, thinking
‘I must always put others first’ might change to ‘sometimes I can put myself first’ –
‘I should always give a great presentation’ might become –
‘it’s not always going to go as well as I want and that’s fine’.
Look at your personal views as your ‘choice’ and that doesn’t mean everyone should think in the same way – try and understand and see things from other people’s perspectives – even if you don’t fully agree with their views.
If you’ve ever watched the TV reality show WIFE SWAP the producers have fun putting people together with completely polarised viewpoints and it’s interesting how on many occasions views are changed from that rigid belief to something more flexible – with really positive results.
Finally, expose yourself to others’ view that doesn’t necessarily fit in with yours and see if you can find any common ground.
I’m a dual national with Italian parents, I was born in London – I’ve really felt the benefit of seeing life from two perspectives –the English and Italian, and feel I can choose the best of both worlds.
So think fluidly to counteract any rigid thinking
In this module, we’ve started to look at specific thinking errors – or our irrational thinking and explored ‘catastrophising’ and ‘all or nothing’ thinking.
We looked in some detail at the negative consequences of thinking in this way and explored in each case how you might best challenge your thinking in order to build your confidence and self-esteem.
In the next module
We continue to look at some of the other common thinking errors and how we can overcome them
Your MYND activity
Again, conscious awareness of the most common types of thinking errors you use is key.
Consider a willingness to almost argue with yourself for a while, challenging the irrational beliefs until you routinely respond in more useful and beneficial ways to the things that happen to you every day
I guarantee you’ll feel so much better.