You probably don’t even realise when you get it wrong. Your patterns of thinking are so habitual that your brain is often in automatic mode. Your brain has had a lot of practice in processing information and cognitive shortcuts are common as a way for our brain to cope with excessive amounts of information.
When I chat to clients (as well as review my own thinking patterns), it becomes clear how often we get it wrong. We engage in errors in thinking that seem logical and reasonable but these thoughts are often wide of the mark and have no basis in actual reality. The problem with this is that we engage in ideas that aren’t true and they can cause anxiety and depression. Our thoughts and reality can be very different yet we believe our thoughts as if they are facts..
1)Imagining the worst-case scenario
It’s unhelpful, but we all engage in catastrophizing. This is where we imagine the worst-case scenario. The more we buy into these thoughts the more upset we get. Catastrophizing is based on fear and we get it wrong when we focus on the worst possible outcome. We have no direct evidence that this will happen but for some reason, this train of thought that starts with a simple negative thought. A thought such as: “My boss seems unhappy with me” can spiral quickly into: “I might lose my job and end up homeless”. All because your boss gave you a strange look or was snappy earlier.
There can be so many reasons for your boss’s behaviour but when you catastrophize you will freak yourself unnecessarily over something that might not even exist in reality.
2)You make assumptions about what others are thinking
This is when most of us get it wrong. We assume we know what someone else is thinking and get on our high horse, getting all worked up. The reality might be very different but when we mind-read, we make up stories and ‘buy into’ those thoughts as if they were real. We take indirect evidence and assume that our thoughts have interpreted the situation correctly.
An example: Your partner doesn’t pick up the hint that you need their help with shopping/buying a sofa etc (insert your own example). You may think that they don’t care about you. If they cared they would know how important this was and wouldn’t forget. You might begin to wonder if you are a priority at all and start to become really annoyed at their lack of attentiveness. Thoughts lead to emotions and off we go on the downward spiral. We often get it wrong when we mind-read. Where’s the evidence that they don’t care? You may say – well it’s obvious! They forgot about what was important to me – clearly, I am not loved.
The thing is – that isn’t really true evidence. Real evidence would be your partner saying to you, “I don’t care about you. You aren’t important.” They might be overloaded and stressed and that’s why they forgot. Don’t mind read – Ask them outright.
3)You spend time predicting the future
“What if…?” Predicting the future often starts with “what if”. What if I never find love? What if I never make enough money to relax? What if I fail? What if I make a fool of myself at the party?
No one can tell what will happen in the future. Any thoughts that you entertain regarding the future are mere supposition. We all do it, we get it wrong when we think we know what will happen. You might be right but then again you might be wrong. Why would you want to waste mental energy on something you have no control over or that might never happen? Problem solve and set yourself goals related to the future but then get back to living in the present. Your power lies in the here and now not in tomorrow. The decisions you make today influence tomorrow, so stay focused on now in order to positively shape the future.
4)Comparing your life to the lives of others
When you compare your ‘behind-the-scenes-footage’ to others’ ‘highlight reels’ you will get it wrong. It’s wasted mental energy and other people never show you what’s really going on. We all put on a facade and Facebook is one of the worst culprits for this. You are comparing your life (warts and all) to a superficial version of what you know about other people’s lives. It’s inaccurate and does you no good. Focus on your own life and where you want to be. Remind yourself of how far you have come too. Remind yourself that everyone has problems and no one has a perfect life. No one.
5)You live with many self-imposed “Shoulds and musts”
Who said you should or you must? Perfectionists are especially guilty of this. I should work harder, I must be a perfect wife/husband/employee etc etc
You will get it wrong if you live with the rigid rules that accompany a “should and must” existence. Get into the habit of asking why you must or should. Is it because it is a value of yours or is it because society/others expect it? Let go of what doesn’t work for you and adjust accordingly.
6)Focusing solely on what isn’t good
A negative mental filter is common. Evolutionary psychologists assert that we are biologically wired to detect threat and this is why we tend to default to focusing on negatives. When you focus on the negatives, it leads to anxiety and depression. There certainly is a lot of negatives to focus on but you can train your brain to balance out hat you focus on. A gratitude journal is one good way to do this.
If you feel irritated with your partner, consider the good things they do for you. Tweaking your thinking in this way leads to a happier mindset. If you can’t find anything positive that may be a sign that you need to reconsider your life. You get it wrong when your focus on negative without any positives included.
7)You regularly criticise yourself
Did you know that when you criticise yourself, you put your body into threat mode (fight,flight, freeze)? Your amygdala and hypothalamus get ready for danger. Self-criticism is damaging and is unhelpful in every way. Self-compassion is the way forward. Accept that you are human and make mistakes just like everyone else.
Give yourself a break and treat yourself as you would someone you cared for. You wouldn’t bully them and tell them they aren’t any good. You would be supportive and encouraging – just the way you should treat yourself. Imagine yourself at five years old and talk to that small child in a kind way. Show yourself self-compassion and you will achieve far more than if you criticise yourself.
We all get it wrong in the way we think but these patterns are thinking that we can adjust and minimise. When you realise you are using these errors in thinking, you learn to dismiss the thoughts and not ‘buy into’ them as much. I regularly chuckle and say to myself, “There I go again, I’m mind reading..etc” I tell myself to STOP IT and change my train of thought. Give it a go – it can make a huge difference to your day.