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Introduction: In 1980, American psychotherapist and author David Burns published a best-
seller which has become a classic book for therapists and for those seeking self-help manuals
to take control of their depression. In his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Dr.
Burns details the relationship between thoughts and mood, and offers research-based
exercises for taking control of "automatic thoughts", and as a result, mood.The following list
was adapted from his writings and from those of Dr. Albert Elliss and Dr. Aaron Beck.
We all tend to think erroneously or in extremes...and when traumatic events
happen we think that way even more. These cognitive errors or cognitive
distortions (CD) often try to condone, deny, justify, excuse, minimize,
rationalize, or otherwise support unhealthy behavior and impact our emotional
state and behavior, thus interfering with healthy and appropriate
communication. Basically, when our thinking patterns are less than accurate,
they become cognitive errors that typically fall into certain categories. Learning
to recognize them increases our ability to actively change them, which, in turn,
enables us to intentionally change our emotions and our behaviors.
This list contains some of the most common cognitive distortions: take a look
and see if any of them have caused problems for you.
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
Putting experiences in one of two categories. Examples: 1) People are all good
or all bad. 2) Projects are perfect or failures. 3) I am a sinner, or I am a
saint. You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls
short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.This is also called Polarized
The hallmark of this distortion is an insistence on dichotomous choices. Things
are black or white, good or bad. You tend to perceive everything at the
extremes, with very little room for a middle ground. The greatest danger in
polarized thinking is its impact on how you judge yourself. For example-You
have to be perfect or you're a failure.
2. Over generalizing
Viewing one or two negative events as a never-ending pattern of
defeat. Believing that something will always happen because it happened
once, or making conclusions based on a single event. This can include dwelling
on the negatives while ignoring the positives. All of the good things in life are
filtered out, leaving the negatives to dwell on.
Examples: 1) I will never be able to make friends at a party because I once made
an awkward statement to someone, and they didn’t want to be my friend. 2) I will
never be able to speak in public because I once had a panic attack before giving
a speech. When you view situations as black-and-white, all-or-nothing, or
completely right/wrong, there is no middle ground and shades of gray are
difficult to grasp. All-or-nothing thinking tends to view mistakes in a way that
self or others are failures, untrustworthy, or intolerable as a never-ending
pattern of defeat.
You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of
evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and
over again. 'Always' and 'never' are cues that this style of thinking is being
utilized. This distortion can lead to a restricted life, as you avoid future failures
based on the single incident or event.
3. Mental Filter - Filtering
You pick out an event and focus on a negative detail exclusively, so that your
vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of black ink that discolors an
entire glass of water or as if you were wearing a pair of dark colored lenses.
You take the negative details and magnify them, while filtering out all positive
aspects of a situation. A single detail may be picked out, and the whole event
becomes colored by this detail. When you pull negative things out of context,
isolated from all the good experiences around you, you make them larger and
more awful than they really are.
4. Discounting the Positive
You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason
or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday
experiences. It is deciding that if a good thing happens, it must not be important
or doesn’t count Examples: 1) I passed the exam this time, but it was a fluke. 2) I
didn’t have a panic attack today, but it’s only because I was too busy to be
5. Jumping to Conclusions
You make assumptions that are not warranted by the facts. Someone with this
common thinking error may make assumptions based on something they were
told without there being any actual evidence; it is -hearsay- but they take it for
the utmost truth. It is also when you decide how to respond to a situation
without having all the information Examples: 1) The man/woman I am interested
in never called me back because he thinks I’m stupid. 2) That person cut me off
in traffic because he/she is a jerk! Or, making a negative interpretation even
though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
o Mind reading: Believing that you know how someone else is feeling
or what they are thinking without any evidence Examples: 1) I know
she hates my guts. 2) That person thinks I’m a loser.
o You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you
and don't bother to check it out.
o Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why
they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how
people are feeling toward you. Mind reading depends on a process
called projection. You imagine that people feel the same way you do
and react to things the same way you do. Therefore, you don't watch
or listen carefully enough to notice that they are actually different.
Mind readers jump to conclusions that are true for them, without
checking whether they are true for the other person.
o The Fortune Teller Error or Fortunetelling: You anticipate that things
will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an
already-established fact. Believing that you can predict a future
outcome, while ignoring other alternatives Examples: 1) I’m going to
fail this test. 2) I’m going to have a panic attack if I go out in public.
6. Magnifying (Catastrophizing or Minimizing)
You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone
else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny
(your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections).
This is also called the "binocular trick." Distorting the importance of positive
and negative events. Examples: 1) I said the wrong thing so I will never have a
boyfriend/girlfriend. 2) My nose is so big that no one will ever love me. 3) It
doesn’t matter if I’m smart because I will never be attractive, athletic, popular,
It is blowing things way out of proportion (magnification) or shrinking them to
less than they actually are (minimization.) This type of thinking is comparable to
the ‘mountain into mole hills’ saying. Things become exaggerated as the
individual takes on a sense of tunnel vision and creates fault and error where
there may be none.
Catastrophising is a cognitive distortion that keeps a person in a constant state
of anxiety. One tends believe that the worst case scenario will always play out
for them and therefore fear just about anything, thus you expect disaster.
You notice or hear about a problem and start "what if's." What if that happens to
me? What if tragedy strikes? There are no limits to a really fertile catastrophic
imagination. An underlying catalyst for this style of thinking is that you do not
trust in yourself and your capacity to adapt to change.
9. Emotional Reasoning
Believing something to be true because it feels true. You assume that your
negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it,
therefore it must be true." Examples: 1) I am a failure because I feel like a
failure. 2) I am worthless because I feel worthless. While sometimes playing a
hunch may be worthwhile, emotional reasoning can lead to unpleasant
consequences. When those who live by this cognitive distortion are ruled by
their feelings (because they believe that if they feel something, it must be true),
logic and reasoning take second place.
Thus, you believe that what you feel must be true-automatically. If you feel
stupid or boring, then you must be stupid and boring. If you feel guilty, then you
must have done something wrong.
The problem with emotional reasoning is that our emotions interact and
correlate with our thinking process. Therefore, if you have distorted thoughts
and beliefs, your emotions will reflect these distortions.
10. “Should-ing”- Thinking in "Should" statements
You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act.
People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty if you or others
violate the rules. The rules are right and indisputable and, as a result, you are
often in the position of judging and finding fault in yourself and in others. Cue
words indicating the presence of this distortion are should, ought, and must.
“Shoulding” is telling yourself that things should be the way you hoped or
expected them to be. “Should” statements directed against oneself lead to guilt
and depression. “Should” statements directed to outer-events lead to
frustration. “Should” statements directed to others lead to anger, blame and
Telling yourself you should, should not, or should have done something, when
it is more accurate to say that you would have preferred or wished you had or
had not done something, leads to self-deprecation and low-self-esteem.
Examples: 1) I should be perfect. 2) I should never make mistakes. 3) I should
not be anxious. 4) I should have done something to help.
Be careful about using words such as ‘should, shouldn’t, must, ought, and have
“Shoulding” often leads to "Blaming”, where you viewyourself or others in a
You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other track and
blame yourself for every problem. Blaming often involves making someone else
responsible for choices and decisions that are actually our own responsibility.
When you blame, you deny your right (and responsibility) to assert your needs,
say no, or go elsewhere for what you want.
12. Labeling (or Mis-Labeling)
Using a label to describe a behavior or error. This is an extreme form of
overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label
to others or 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 louse."
Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored
and emotionally loaded. Examples: 1) He’s a bad person (instead of “He made a
mistake when he lied.”) 2) I’m stupid (instead of “I didn’t study for my test, and I
failed it.”) –
When you you generalize one or two qualities (in yourself or others) into a
negative global judgment you fall into “Global Labeling.”
13. Global Labeling
You ignore all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that can be
stereotyped and one-dimensional. Labeling yourself can have a negative and
insidious impact upon your self-esteem; while labeling others can lead to snap-
judgments, relationship problems, and prejudice.
This thinking error involves taking unnecessary responsibility or being quick to
accept that judgmental opinions could be true, a view which can greatly impact
self-esteem. Self-blame is associated with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame,
and self-hatred. Blame of others is associated with mistrust, resentment, and
defensiveness. You may also see yourself as the cause of some negative
external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible. It is taking
blame for some negative event even though you were not responsible, you
could not have known to do differently, there were extenuating circumstances,
or other people were involved. Examples: 1) It’s my fault he hits me. 2) My
mother is unhappy because of me.
This is the tendency to relate everything around you to yourself. For example,
thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You
also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who's smarte, better
looking, etc. The underlying assumption is that your worth is in question. You
are therefore continually forced to test your value as a person by measuring
yourself against others. If you come out better, you get a moment's relief. If you
come up short, you feel diminished. The basic thinking error is that you
interpret each experience, each conversation, each look as a clue to your worth
15. Always Being Right
We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are
correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate
that we are "right".
For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going
to win this argument no matter what because I know I’m right.” Being right often
is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in
this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.
You feel continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct.
Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your
rightness. Having to be 'right' often makes you hard of hearing. You aren't
interested in the possible veracity of a differing opinion, only in defending your
own. Being right becomes more important than an honest and caring
16. Fallacy of Change
We falsely expect that other people will change just because: a) we asked them
to; b) our happiness depends on it; c) we really want them to; d) we can
manipulate them or control them to do so.
You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or
cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for
happiness seem to depend entirely on them. The truth is the only person you
can really control or have much hope of changing is yourself. The underlying
assumption of this thinking style is that your happiness depends on the actions
of others. Your happiness actually depends on the thousands of large and small
choices you make in your life.
17. Control Fallacy
We feel ourselves as being totally controlled by others or by fate. We make
excuses for our own behavior and accuse others of "making us" do it. We hold
other people, our past, or the Universe responsible and do not accept
responsibility for some of our behaviors.
There are two ways we can distort your sense of power and control. If you feel
externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate.
The fallacy of internal control sees you as you responsible for the pain and
happiness of everyone around you. The truth of the matter is that we are
constantly making decisions, and that every decision affects our lives. On the
other hand, the fallacy of internal control leaves you exhausted as you attempt
to fill the needs of everyone around you, and feel responsible in doing so (and
guilty when you cannot).
The fallacy that you are externally controlled sees external forces as the cause
of everything that happens in your life. Feeling externally controlled keeps you
stuck. You don't believe you can really affect the basic shape of your life, let
alone make any difference in the world.
18. Fallacy of Fairness or Heaven's Reward Fallacy
We feel that things in life, or people, should be "fair" or that we should rewarded
for our efforts. If we are not, we feel victimized.
You feel resentful because you think you know what's fair, but other people
won't agree with you. Fairness is so conveniently defined, so temptingly self-
serving, that each person gets locked into his or her own point of view. It is
tempting to make assumptions about how things would change if people were
only fair or really valued you. But the other person hardly ever sees it that way,
and you end up causing yourself a lot of pain and an ever-growing resentment.
You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were
someone keeping score. You fell bitter when the reward doesn't come as
expected. The problem is that while you are always doing the 'right thing,' if
your heart really isn't in it, you are physically and emotionally depleting
15 Styles of Distorted Thinking
Avoid cognitive distortions that may skew the perception of your self, your relationships and your
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15 Styles of Distorted Thinking
1. Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them, while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.
A single detail may be picked out, and the whole event becomes colored by this detail. When you pull negative
things out of context, isolated from all the good experiences around you, you make them larger and more
awful than they really are.
2. Polarized Thinking: The hallmark of this distortion is an insistence on dichotomous choices. Things are black or
white, good or bad. You tend to perceive everything at the extremes, with very little room for a middle ground.
The greatest danger in polarized thinking is its impact on how you judge yourself. For example-You have to be
perfect or you're a failure.
3. Overgeneralization: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If
something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. 'Always' and 'never' are cues that
this style of thinking is being utilized. This distortion can lead to a restricted life, as you avoid future failures
based on the single incident or event.
4. Mind Reading: Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In
particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you. Mind reading depends on a process called
projection. You imagine that people feel the same way you do and react to things the same way you do.
Therefore, you don't watch or listen carefully enough to notice that they are actually different. Mind readers
jump to conclusions that are true for them, without checking whether they are true for the other person.
5. Catastrophizing: You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start "what if's." What if that
happens to me? What if tragedy strikes? There are no limits to a really fertile catastrophic imagination. An
underlying catalyst for this style of thinking is that you do not trust in yourself and your capacity to adapt to
6. Personalization: This is the tendency to relate everything around you to yourself. For example, thinking that
everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to
determine who's smarter, better looking, etc. The underlying assumption is that your worth is in question. You
are therefore continually forced to test your value as a person by measuring yourself against others. If you
come out better, you get a moment's relief. If you come up short, you feel diminished. The basic thinking error
is that you interpret each experience, each conversation, each look as a clue to your worth and value.
7. Control Fallacies: There are two ways you can distort your sense of power and control. If you feel externally
controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for
the pain and happiness of everyone around you. Feeling externally controlled keeps you stuck. You don't
believe you can really affect the basic shape of your life, let alone make any difference in the world. The truth
of the matter is that we are constantly making decisions, and that every decision affects our lives. On the other
hand, the fallacy of internal control leaves you exhausted as you attempt to fill the needs of everyone around
you, and feel responsible in doing so (and guilty when you cannot).
8. Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what's fair, but other people won't agree
with you. Fairness is so conveniently defined, so temptingly self-serving, that each person gets locked into his
or her own point of view. It is tempting to make assumptions about how things would change if people were
only fair or really valued you. But the other person hardly ever sees it that way, and you end up causing
yourself a lot of pain and an ever-growing resentment.
9. Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every
problem. Blaming often involves making someone else responsible for choices and decisions that are actually
our own responsibility. In blame systems, you deny your right (and responsibility) to assert your needs, say no,
or go elsewhere for what you want.
10. Shoulds: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the
rules anger you, and you feel guilty if you violate the rules. The rules are right and indisputable and, as a result,
you are often in the position of judging and finding fault (in yourself and in others). Cue words indicating the
presence of this distortion are should, ought, and must.
11. Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be true-automatically. If you feel stupid or boring,
then you must be stupid and boring. If you feel guilty, then you must have done something wrong. The problem
with emotional reasoning is that our emotions interact and correlate with our thinking process. Therefore, if
you have distorted thoughts and beliefs, your emotions will reflect these distortions.
12. Fallacy of Change: You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them
enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them. The
truth is the only person you can really control or have much hope of changing is yourself. The underlying
assumption of this thinking style is that your happiness depends on the actions of others. Your happiness
actually depends on the thousands of large and small choices you make in your life.
13. Global Labeling: You generalize one or two qualities (in yourself or others) into a negative global judgment.
Global labeling ignores all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that can be stereotyped and one-
dimensional. Labeling yourself can have a negative and insidious impact upon your self-esteem; while labeling
others can lead to snap-judgments, relationship problems, and prejudice.
14. Being Right: You feel continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is
unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness. Having to be 'right' often makes you
hard of hearing. You aren't interested in the possible veracity of a differing opinion, only in defending your
own. Being right becomes more important than an honest and caring relationship.
15. Heaven's Reward Fallacy: You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone
keeping score. You fell bitter when the reward doesn't come as expected. The problem is that while you are
always doing the 'right thing,' if your heart really isn't in it, you are physically and emotionally depleting
*From Thoughts & Feelings by McKay, Davis, & Fanning. New Harbinger, 1981. These styles of thinking (or
cognitive distortions) were gleaned from the work of several authors, including Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and
David Burns, among others.
One of the cognitive distortions that anxiety sufferers often have in their thinking is called “all or nothing”. It's a pretty
common pattern that many people, not just anxiety sufferers, engage in. In fact, most people when making an
argument, do so in very “black and white” terms (all or nothing).
I’ll use a general example and show how it relates to All or Nothing Thinking.
A common occurence on TV involves political commentators debating a topic on television, all of them representing a
different political party. Generally, whenever one of the commentators makes a point, he/she will do so by focusing
solely on the information that favours his/her point without mentioning any information that would go against the
argument he/she is trying to make. But in reality, things are almost never as black and white as they are presented.
By simply spending some time researching things - anything really - you’ll discover that most things in the world are not
nearly as black and white as they seem at first.
How does this relate to anxiety and panic attacks?
Because anxiety and panic attack sufferers’ thoughts often contain the “all or nothing” cognitive distortion. Often,
when one gets emotional, he/she will simplify the matter into black and white terms, even though in reality the
circumstances don’t neatly fit into such extremes.
An example of such a thought would be the following: “If I don’t get over my panic attacks then I’ll never be successful”
Here are some other examples
“My panic attacks make me a completely inadequate person.”
“Something really bad is going to happen someday when I have a panic attack.
The real problem with these thoughts is that we don't talk back to them. These statements are untrue and although
you may not think these things explicitly, in some sense, these assumptions are probably operating in the background
of an anxieety sufferer's mind.
So here are the take home lessons:
1. Reality is not black and white therefore it is unrealistic to impose standards on yourself like these things I’ve just
stated. If you have a hard time believing this just do some research on any topic and see how things do not fit neatly
into boxes in real life.
If I could make a suggestion it would be look around you, whether it be through television or other forms of media, (I
might suggest reading a newspaper or online new story which you can slow down to your own preferences so you can
go back and forth) and really examine the issues.
2. Also you can objectively look at issues in life by putting your own personal opinions aside as much as possible and
see where the evidence leads you.
3. Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on a regular basis.
These actions can be very helpful for developing more realistic thinking, and they can be very helpful in reframing the
thoughts that are driving your anxiety and panic.
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1 Is that the only way to look at it? Watch out for
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 3 months ago
Started 2 years ago 30 Likes
If you are looking for a surefire way to beat up on
yourself, I can’t recommend a better one than all-
or-nothing thinking. The All Or Nothing Thinking
Why Giving Up All or Nothing Thinking Can Help Alleviate Depression
The bowl of soup smashes on the kitchen floor as it accidentally slips from your grasp and you find yourself
thinking "I can never do anything right." If you've read up on cognitive distortions, you already know this kind
of thinking is the kind of black and white mentality that only lets you think in absolutes. There is no room for
gray in the all or nothing crayon box. If this kind of extreme response is an all-too familiar pattern in everyday
life, then you are suffering from all or nothing thinking.
All or nothing thinking evolved to keep us safe...
Let's go back about 200,000 years ago to Africa, when the first modern humans appeared. Imagine your
ancestors out there just trying to survive. They had to get food for their families and fend off danger.
Sometimes that danger came in the form of wild predatory animals.
If a saber-toothed tiger came after your ancestor, he had a choice to make. He could either fight or run. Enter
the fight or flight response, a natural emotional response which evolved to help our ancestors to make split-
second decisions in order to save their own lives. With a stressor like a hungry tiger, no wonder it was all or
nothing back in those days.
An all or nothing mentality allowed your ancestors to engage in fight or flight...
As a child abuse survivor, it's also the response you generated each time you experienced an act of child abuse
at the hands of your abuser. Your body pumped out adrenalin and a hormone associated with stress known as
cortisol in order to prepare you to respond to danger the same way your ancestors had to all those years ago. It
was as if that same saber-toothed tiger faced by your ancestor was coming after you.
But (hopefully) nobody's abusing you today and there are no saber-toothed tigers in your
So what triggers the all or nothing response? It's anything that mentally (either consciously or unconsciously)
reminds you of past child abuse.
For instance, let's say your father used to verbally abuse you by yelling uncontrollably and telling you how bad
you were. You always remember feeling really bad when this happened. Now years later as an adult, you find
that when your boss starts yelling at you for poor work performance, you find yourself feeling the same way
and thinking "I can never do anything right."
That's a classic all or nothing thinking response. It's 100% good or 100% bad. There's no in-between.
But it's the extremes that cause depression....
Our thoughts influence the way we feel. It then follows that if we think in extremes, our emotions will tend to
follow suit as well. The psychological research shows that it's experiencing extreme emotions (whether they
are positive or negative) that makes people more susceptible to depression. In other words, engaging in all or
nothing thinking can make you more prone to depression.
You can give up all or nothing thinking by:
1. Becoming aware that you're doing it. Words like "never", "always", "perfect", "impossible", and "terrible." For
instance, if you say something like "I can never do anything right" after making a mistake, that's something to
be aware of.
2. Trying some therapy. If you're an abuse survivor, you should aim for getting as much emotional support as
possible, preferably in the form of a therapist. Oftentimes, child abuse survivors suffer from PTSD (post-
traumatic stress disorder), which can make it hard to think in a calm and balanced manner.
3. Arguing with yourself. When you catch yourself saying something like "I can never do anything right," try
coming up with examples of when you have done something right. For instance, did you remember to take out
the trash once this week? Then you've done something right and the above statement can't possibly be true.
I know, I know. Maybe you've tried giving this up before and it hasn't worked.
There's a simple reason. It's because you haven't made it a habit. To make something a habit, you should keep
at it for at least 30 days. Then it starts to become automatic. That's why it's important when you're first starting
out to enlist the help of someone supportive, such as a therapist. They can help reinforce your commitment to
giving up your old patterns of thinking.
Give up the extremes and aim for balance...
The lesson here is to catch yourself when you're thinking in extremes. A situation typically isn't all bad. A
bowl of soup you dropped on your kitchen floor is one accident and doesn't mean you can't do anything right
ever again. One bad performance at work doesn't mean you can't do a good job overall. You're a human being
entitled to your mistakes.
Shoot for calm and balanced thoughts to find real peace in your life. That's how giving up all or nothing
thinking will help you with depression.
best way to define what that means is through a couple of examples:
“I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that dessert. I’m never going to get my diet on track. This is terrible. (And I
may as well have another one since I’ve blown my diet.)”
“I thought he was going to call me to get together, but it looks like he’s not going to. Now my weekend is
“I set a goal of getting exercise three times a week. The week is over and I haven’t exercised once. Now I feel
awful. Why bother to try?”
“We always check in with each other at least twice a day. It’s perfect for me. In fact it’s the only thing that I
can count on in my life.”
As you read through these examples of all-or-nothing thinking, did any words jump out at you? Here are a few
hints: never, ruined, awful, perfect, always, and only. What these words have in common is that they don’t
leave a lot of room for alternate ways of viewing a situation. Instead, they are ways of saying that a situation
has to be one way or the other, all or nothing, one extreme or the other.
If you find yourself using words like these when things don’t go the way you expected them to, you may be
caught up in all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking means that your self-talk is focused on extremes. If it’s not this way, then it must be
that way. If it doesn’t look like this, then it has to be that. It is self-talk that doesn’t allow for looking at a
situation from different perspectives. It is focused on the black and white at each end of the spectrum but
prevents you from seeing the shades of gray that might fall in between.
Now, if you are standing in the middle of the street and a car is coming toward you, all-or-nothing thinking is
probably the best response. Don’t think twice – get out of the way. But in day-to-day life, all-or-nothing
thinking pretty much works against you.
Think about it this way. Hand-in-hand with all-or-nothing thinking is telling yourself that you have to be
perfect, the first time, and every time. That life has to be one way and can’t be any other way. And that other
people need to be a certain way, too. That’s not a recipe for failure, but it’s a recipe to feel like you failed, and
that others have, when in reality that’s not the case. Keep in mind that your perception can feel a whole like
reality, even if it’s not. Who wants to live that way?
If you have found yourself caught up in all-or-nothing thinking, you probably already know the consequences.
Feeling like a failure. Feeling hopeless. Turning a tiny setback into something much bigger. Feeling that other
people are always going to disappoint you.
And then what? All-or-nothing thinking can lead to a defeatist attitude, and emotions like anxiety and
depression. Feeling panic. Giving up on your self-care. Assuming you can’t make improvements. Stress that
can negatively impact your health.
It’s only human to indulge in some all-or-nothing thinking from time to time. But it’s also possible to do
something about it.
First, recognize when you are caught up in all-or-nothing thinking. Take a look at your self-talk. If you hear
any of those all-or-nothing words – ruined, impossible, always, never – sound the alarm that you have
wandered into the land of extremes.
Consider the shades of gray. Sure, it’s not what I wanted or expected. Or, it looks like what’s happening is just
what I was afraid would happen. But take a step back and look at the situation through another lens. Ask
yourself: What are other ways to look at this situation? One slip-up on your diet doesn’t have to mean that you
are doomed to poor eating. Not receiving the phone call you had wanted doesn’t mean that you can’t find
something else to do over the weekend. Missing a week of exercise doesn’t mean that you can’t exercise today.
And deciding that something is perfect doesn’t meant that life could still be good if there was a variation in the
In other words, ask yourself: What’s the middle ground here?
Argue with yourself. Once you move your attention to the shades of gray, have a little argument with yourself.
Surround that all-or-nothing voice with alternate voices. Use some tough love, use a little humor, use lots of
compassion. The idea here is to talk yourself out of the extreme and into a perspective that promotes your self-
care and optimistic outlook. Don’t let that all-or-nothing voice off the hook!
Turn your self-talk around. Once you have spent some time focused on the gray area and come up with an
alternate perspective, try some new self-talk. Here are some examples:
I can enjoy something that’s not perfect.
I can love someone for their good qualities and for what sometimes annoys me about them.
I can live with variations in routine even though I didn’t choose them.
I can fall off my (diet, exercise) horse but pick myself up, dust myself off, get back on that horse, and get
If I make a mistake, that doesn’t mean I am a failure. The same goes for other people.
Overcoming your all-or-nothing thinking is a process. After all, it’s been hardwired into all of you through
years and years of practice. But it’s possible to change it if you are willing to do some work while also being
patient with yourself. So don’t get into an all-or-nothing mindset about your all-or-nothing thinking. Change
requires retraining your mind to think differently so that you can look at things differently and, as a result, feel
differently. Step by step, one day at a time.
Give up the extremes, choose a middle ground, and change the way you feel. Balance is everything!
. Black and White Thinking (All or Nothing Thinking)
In black and white thinking we tend to see things, ourselves and other people as being all wrong or
all right, all good or all bad. We are a total success or we are a total failure. We are either
completely 100% right or we are 100% wrong. The reality is we all make mistakes. Life is a
learning process and nobody is perfect. For example, if we make one mistake we see ourselves as
ALL OR NOTHING THINKING
When we think this way things are either totally one way or totally the other.
If something falls short of perfect it is completely ruined and pointless to carry on.
Example: A person who was trying to give up smoking had a cigarette, they said to themselves
“that’s it, I’ve blown it there is no point trying to stop I may as well smoke forever”.
Alternative way of thinking: “Oh well, it was only one, I wish I hadn’t had it but I now know
how easy it is just to have one, I will be more careful in the future when things are stressful”.
Can you think of some examples of your own?
Can you think of some alternative thoughts?
Recently I had the opportunity to address the support group for bariatric surgery patients at the Brigham and Women's
Hospital here in Boston. One of the topics we discussed is familiar to many people who have engaged in almost any
kind of treatment for obesity: all-or-nothing thinking.
You know what this is. It's the idea that you have to stick to a diet and exercise program perfectly, daily, and
indefinitely, starting on a Monday, or else you are a failure and might as well shove any old junk into your mouth and
live on the sofa. I have been making the point to patients for years that this is the only area of life in which we think
Let's take a look at a few examples of important parts of our lives and test this idea. First, your job. Give this a reality
test: "Starting Monday, I'm going to arrive on time, finish all the tasks on my to-do list, return all phone calls within 24
hours, be prepared for every meeting, and smile while doing it all! And I'm going to do this every day for the rest of my
career!" And then, on Tuesday, you arrive 5 minutes late for work: "Well, that's it! I'm going to the beach and I'll come
back when I'm ready to re-commit!"
Next, consider your marriage. Is this you? "I'm going to be the best spouse on the planet! Starting Monday, I'm going to
put my spouse's needs first, tell my spouse how wonderful he/she is, prepare his/her favorite meals, and have sex
every night! Forever!" Then on Tuesday, when you argue over whose turn it is to take out the trash: "Enough! I tried to
be the perfect spouse! I knew it wouldn't work! I'm outta here and I'll come back when I'm ready to be the perfect
One more example and I think I will demonstrate my point. Let's talk about your kids. Is this you? Careful how you
answer! "Starting Monday, I'm going to be the perfect parent. I'm not going to lose it when my kids misbehave, I'm
going to help them with their homework, drive them to school, soothe the baby when she cries, and never ever
complain. Every day and every night!" Then on Tuesday when the baby simply can't be soothed and you feel frustrated
and defeated: "That's it! You kids are on your own! I'm going away and I'll come back when I can be the perfect parent
I'm betting you could not identify with these examples. So perhaps it's worth reconsidering the all-or-nothing approach
to eating and exercise. Remember:
You don't have to wait until Monday to make a self-respecting choice.
Every moment is an opportunity to choose health.
The steps you take create the path of your life.
Everything you do matters. What you do is a demonstration of who you are.
Have a mindful day!
Posted by GourMind at 6:13 PM http://gourmind.blogspot.com/2010/07/all-or-nothing-thinking.html
All‐ or‐ nothing thinking – Random Thoughts about
My first thought about Difficult/Easy is that it represents a common cognitive distortion: Black and White (or
All or Nothing) Thinking. Yes, fellow humans, we can easily classify things as All Bad or All Good, Perfect
or Useless, All This or All That. However, most experiences, people, things, etc. are not in an either/or
extreme. We live in a world of greys, where things shift and change, even if we naturally see things in
Difficult and Easy are expressions of absolutes and extremes, aren’t they?
Let me take this opportunity to show you something in my office. In its first appearance in this blog (drum
You see things in black or white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect you see
yourself as a total failure. Example: A straight-A student who receives a B on an exam concludes,
“Now I’m a total failure.” http://www2.georgetown.edu/som/docs/Cognitive%20Disorders.pdf
We engage in all-or-nothing thinking when we accept automatic thoughts which describe events
in black-and-white categories, with no shades of gray. It is a more extreme form of magnification
and minimization in which we minimize to the point that many positive aspects of life completely
disappear from sight. Such automatic thoughts lead to a kind of perfectionism that defines
everything short of 100% success as a failure. To a point, such perfectionism can lead us to try
harder; but in the long run, inevitably, it tends to discourage us from trying at all. Since we
encounter very little black or white in the real world, this kind of thinking squeezes much of the
brightness out of our view of the world: all the shades of gray come to look as black as night.
This refers to your tendency to evaluate your personal qualities in extreme, black-or-white
categories. For example, a prominent politician told me, "Because I lost the race for governor, I'm
a zero." A straight-A student who received a B on an exam concluded, "Now I'm a total failure."
All-or-Nothing Thinking forms the basis for perfectionism. It causes you to fear any mistake or
imperfection because you will then see yourself as a complete loser, and you will feel inadequate
This way of evaluating things is unrealistic because life is rarely completely either one way or the
other. For example, no one is absolutely brilliant or totally stupid. Similarly, no one is either
completely attractive or totally ugly. Look at the floor of the room you are sitting in now. Is it
perfectly clean? Is every inch piled high with dust and dirt? Or is it partially clean? Absolutes do
not exist in this universe. If you try to force your experiences into absolute categories, you will be
constantly depressed because your perceptions will not conform to reality. You will set yourself
up for discrediting yourself endlessly because whatever you do will never measure up to your
exaggerated expectations. The technical name for this type of perceptual error is "dichotomous
thinking." You see everything as black and or white -- shades of gray do not exist.
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
EXAMPLE: “I planned to eat two cookies, but instead I ate four…in other words, I’ve blown it. I might as
well finish off the entire sleeve.”
RETORT: “Yes, I ate more cookies than I wanted to, and now I feel a little uncomfortable. But there’s no
reason to add to my discomfort by eating more. Besides, a few extra cookies is really no big deal!”
A child engaging in all-or-nothing thinking sees things in black and white categories. If his performance falls
short of perfect, he sees himself as a total failure.
Children can use this Thinking Error in many different ways.
To support a preexisting negative self-image: if the child’s self-esteem is low, he may simply have
trouble seeing the good things in life and instead focus on the negative, which becomes the entire
To rationalize a a lack of effort: if the child sees himself as simply a failure, then it isn’t his fault when
his lack of effort results in poor performance; it is simply destiny
To rationalize their negative thoughts about others: an adult who did a single thing the child didn’t like
is immediately written of as a total jerk because his behavior was not perfect.
To maintain a victim mentality: since everyone, at some point, has probably done something negative
towards him, the child feels like he is surrounded by antagonists working toward his failure
In Critical Thinking
All-or-nothing thinking is an instance of the informal fallacy of the false dilemma or false dichotomy. The
false dilemma reduces a situation to two choices when those two are not necessarily the only choices available;
other options are omitted. Quite often, the two choices are the extreme ends of a spectrum of possibilities and
all intermediate options are omitted. In other cases, the two choices are represented as being mutually
exclusive when, in fact, they are not; you could have your cake and eat it, too.
The false dilemma is common in political rhetoric and advertising. Its manifestation as “black-and-white
thinking” is a common component of casual moral judgments. Some examples of the false dilemma in action
The political tactic, common throughout time, of reducing dissent during conflict by framing the issue
as one of “Us vs. Them,” and if you’re not with “Us,” you’re against “Us,” and therefore with “Them.”
In reality, it is possible to see the merits and flaws in both side of the conflict, or to take a side in
general but not without reservations or criticisms. It is possible to remain entirely neutral, and it is
possible to have no horse in the race, so to speak, and so not to care at all about the conflict.
Also in the realm of politics, policy is often argued against if it is perceived to be only partially
effective at achieving its goals, e.g. some claim that the Americans with Disabilities Act cannot
possibly provide equal access for every conceivable disability, therefore it should be stricken from the
books. All else being equal (and without making a statement regarding the political value of the claim),
this argument is based on a false dilemma: if the law is not entirely effective, then it is entirely a failure
and should not exist.
Advertisements often promote their product as the only solution to a given problem. Ads for weight-
loss products, for example, will often claim that their product is the only reliable way to a thinner you,
creating the dilemma “Buy our product or stay fat.” Ads for cleaning products may claim that theirs is
the only product that does the job, creating the dilemma “Buy our product or stay dirty.” Both of these
types of approaches ignore (or explicitly downplay) other options: other products, other approaches,
People tend to think of other people as either “good” or “bad” people, with little or no interplay
between the two. They place people into two categories without recognizing the “grey area” in which
most of us exist. People who are seen to do inappropriate things are thought of as wholly “bad,” or
figures or moral authority are seen as unimpeachably “good.” An ethical false dilemma ignores the
good and bad within each individual, the merits and flaws we all possess, and the moral interstice in
which most people live most of their lives.
Bridging the Gap
When a child engages in all-or-nothing thinking, he is reducing his personal and social world down to two
possibilities when many more are present. The thought process goes like this:
You can either be a success or failure [creation of the false dilemma]. People who are successes don’t fail
[ignoring other options]. I messed up once, so I’m not a success. I guess that means I’m a failure [application
of the dilemma to self-image].
Likewise, when the child creates false dilemmas about his social world, it leads to all-or-nothing thinking. The
thought process is almost identical: people can either be good or bad (where “good” is equated with “perfect”
and “bad” with “monstrous”), and a good person doesn’t do bad things, so when someone does a bad thing, it
means they’re a bad person.
The child’s thought process ignores the spectrum of possibilities between “perfect success” and “perfect
failure,” or between “always good” and “always bad.” He doesn’t grade these opposites based on the relative
presence of the two, but chooses instead to think of them as discrete and exclusionary categories. Once the
child understands how these types of negative thoughtsOnce the child understands how these types of negative
thoughts rest on a false dilemma, it is easy to generalize the all-or-nothing thinking error to other parts of life.
2. Overgeneralization – You see a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat.
Example: When one woman declined a date, the man concluded, “I’m never going to get a date. No
one will ever want me.”
3. Mental filter –You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, thus perceiving that
the whole situation is negative and filtering out the positive. Example: in a 20minute oral
presentation, for 2 minutes you lose your concentration and feel you are rambling. Because of this
you think, “I gave a horrible presentation,” discounting that for 18 of the 20minutes you performed
4. Disqualifying the positive – An individual transforms neutral or even positive experiences into
negative ones. You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or the
other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday
experiences. Example: When someone praises your appearance or your work, you tell yourself,
“They’re just being nice” or you say to them, “It was nothing really.”
5. Jumping to Conclusion – You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite
facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
a. Mind reading – You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and
you don’t bother to check it out. Example: Your spouse is upset about work and is quiet at
home. You think, “She’s mad at me. What did I do wrong?”
b. Fortune Teller Error – You anticipate things will turn out badly and you feel convinced that
your prediction is an already established fact. Example: You call your friend who doesn’t get
back to you. You don’t call back and check out why because you say to yourself “He’ll think
I’m being obnoxious if I call again. I’ll make a fool of myself.” You avoid your friend, feel put
down and find out he never got your message.
6. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization) – You exaggerate the importance of things
(such as your mistakes or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until
they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other person’s imperfections). Example of
Magnification: A student answers a professor’s question incorrectly and thinks, “How awful. Now he
thinks I’m, stupid and I’ll fail this class, never graduate and never get a good job.”
7. Emotional Reasoning – You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way
things really are. “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Example: “I feel stupid, therefore I am stupid.” “I
feel overwhelmed and hopeless, therefore my problems must be impossible to solve.”
8. Should Statements – You try to motivate yourself or others with should and shouldn’ts as if you
have to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. Musts and oughts
are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements at
others you feel anger, frustration and resentment. Example: “I should have gotten all the questions
right,” causes feelings of guilt. “He should have been on time,” causes feelings of resentment, anger
9. Labeling and Mislabeling – An extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your
error, you attach a negative label to yourself or others When someone else’s behavior rubs you the
wrong way, you attach a negative label to that person. Mislabeling involves describing an event with
language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. Example: You miss a basketball shot and
say, “I’m a born loser” instead of saying, “I messed up on that one shot.”
10. Personalization – You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact
you were not primarily responsible for. It causes you to feel extreme guilty. Example: A father sees
his child’s report card with a note from the teacher indicating the child isn’t working well. He
immediately replies, “I must be a bad father. This shows how I’ve failed.
Ten Common Cognitive Distortions (plus some good retorts!)
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
EXAMPLE: “I planned to eat two cookies, but instead I ate four…in other words, I’ve blown it. I might as
well finish off the entire sleeve.”
RETORT: “Yes, I ate more cookies than I wanted to, and now I feel a little uncomfortable. But there’s no
reason to add to my discomfort by eating more. Besides, a few extra cookies is really no big deal!”
EXAMPLE: “This week has been majorly stressful, and I binged on ice cream to deal with it. Ughhhhhhh! I
will always be an emotional over-eater!”
RETORT: “This week has been majorly stressful, and I didn’t use the best coping strategies to manage it. But
now I can learn from this situation so that I am better able to handle it next time around.”
3. Dwelling on the Negative
EXAMPLE: “Holy cow, this blemish is crazy big and ugly. When someone looks at me, that is all they are
going to see, and they will think I’m just plain gross.”
RETORT: “Sure, that blemish isn’t the most attractive thing in the world. But I probably notice it way more
than anyone else. They probably won’t even think twice about it.”
4. Disqualifying the Positive
EXAMPLE: “Even though today I chose healthy foods and got in some moderate exercise, it doesn’t really
count because yesterday I did the opposite.”
RETORT: “Yesterday is in the past. Today I took care of myself, and I deserve to be proud of that!”
5. Jumping to Conclusions
EXAMPLE: “That girl I met last night? The one I thought was a potential new friend? Yeah, she doesn’t like
me. I can just tell.”
RETORT: “That thought is a judgment, not a fact. Besides, how can someone truly like or dislike me after one
6. Magnification of a Single Episode
EXAMPLE: “I was ten minutes late to work today. NOOOOOOOOO!!!! My boss probably thinks I’m totally
RETORT: “What about the other dozens of days I’ve been on time, or even early? One late day does not
7. Emotional Mind
EXAMPLE: “Because I feel fat and ugly, I am fat and ugly.”
RETORT: “Well first, fat isn’t really a feeling. And second, just because I feel or think something doesn’t
mean it’s a set-in-stone reality.”
8. Should Thoughts
EXAMPLE: “I should go running even though I’m tired and sore because if I don’t I will have gone two days
RETORT: “Obsessing about what I should do isn’t helpful or productive. Instead, I will pay attention to my
body and react to its cues accordingly.”
EXAMPLE: “I made a silly mistake while cooking and now dinner is ruined! I am such an idiot!” (Note: This
just happened yesterday! )
RETORT: “It’s true that dinner is pretty unedible. But mistakes happen to everyone, not to mention I was tired
and rushing around. This little mishap says nothing about me or my intelligence!”
EXAMPLE: “Wow, Dave seems pretty upset. It must be me. I must have said something to frustrate or annoy
him.” (I told you these were real-life examples!)
RETORT: “How about I ask Dave what’s wrong so that we can talk about it? For all I know it has nothing to
do with me.” (Turns out he had a headache!)
Granted, the way I’ve laid these out might seem too obvious; our thought-process is often much more subtle.
But still, these cognitive distortions are traps that a lot of us fall into, usually without even realizing
it. Simply increasing my awareness has allowed me to challenge and replace these distortions with more level-
headed thoughts, which does wonders for my body image and relationship with food. Sometimes all I need is
that little reality check!
Have you encountered any of these cognitive distortions? How do you challenge those thoughts?
Identifying your negative thinking is the first step towards letting it go. These are the common types of
negative thinking. There is overlap among them, but giving each type a name makes it easier to remember
them. (If you do any more reading in cognitive therapy, you may come across the term “distorted thinking.”
Some authors use that term instead of negative thinking. But it sounds harsh.)
The Big Four Types of Negative Thinking
All-or-Nothing Thinking. "I have to do things perfectly, because anything less than perfect is a failure."
Disqualifying the Positives. "Life feels like one disappointment after another."
Negative Self-Labeling. "I feel like a failure. I'm flawed. If people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me."
Catastrophizing. "If something is going to happen, it'll probably be the worst case scenario."
Other Common Types of Negative Thinking
Mind Reading. "I can tell people don't like me because of the way they behave."
Should Statements. "People should be fair. If I'm nice to them, they should be nice back."
Excessive Need for Approval. "I can only be happy if people like me. If someone is upset, it's probably my
Disqualifying the Present. "I'll relax later. But first I have to rush to finish this."
Dwelling on Pain. “If I dwell on why I’m unhappy and think about what went wrong, maybe I’ll feel better.”
Alternately, “If I worry enough about my problem, maybe I will feel better.”
Pessimism. “Life is a struggle. I don’t think we are meant to be happy. I don’t trust people who are happy. If
something good happens in my life, I usually have to pay for it with something bad.”
Consequences of Negative Thinking
Negative thinking is an obstacle to self-change. Any change feels like a big deal. You can’t see the small steps,
and you don’t have the energy to take big steps, therefore you feel stuck.
All-or-nothing thinking is the most common type of negative thinking, and is the main cause of many
problems including anxiety, depression, and addiction.
All-or-nothing thinking leads to anxiety because you think that any mistake is a failure, which may expose you
to criticism or judgment. Therefore you don’t give yourself permission to relax and let your guard down.
All-or-nothing thinking can lead to depression because when you think you have to be perfect, you feel trapped
by your own unrealistic standards. Feeling trapped is one of the known causes of depression.
All-or-nothing thinking can lead to addiction because anxiety or depression feels so uncomfortable that you
may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape.
Stress Inducing Thinking Errors
"We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are."
As we have learnt, our thoughts play an influential role in our perception of
the stress that we are under. Some of these stress inducing thoughts are
what Clinical Psychologists call Cognitive Distortions. These stress inducing
thinking errors can exacerbate any stress we are under and it is important
to identify and challenge them.
You will find below some of the most common of these thinking errors.
Write down any which you think might apply to you.
1. Black and White Thinking (All or Nothing Thinking)
In black and white thinking we tend to see things, ourselves and other
people as being all wrong or all right, all good or all bad. We are a total
success or we are a total failure. We are either completely 100% right or
we are 100% wrong. The reality is we all make mistakes. Life is a
learning process and nobody is perfect. For example, if we make one
mistake we see ourselves as having failed.
In overgeneralization when we experience a single, negative event such as
not getting a job that we applied for, we tend to think we will never get a
job ever again. We make a mistake and we think we can never do things
right. We make conclusions based on single events. For example
"Everything I do turns out wrong."
When we catastrophise we automatically think the worst is going to
happen, it will be awful and we will not be able to cope. For example,
"My relationship broke up, so nobody will want a relationship with me
again in the future."
4. Mental Filter
In mental filter we see all the negatives and seldom see the positives. We
filter out all the good things that life has and overly focus on negative
parts of life. We pick on a single negative detail and dwell on it. We
overly dwell on the negative and totally ignore the positives. We make
predictions about what will happen to us in the future based on little
information. For example, someone says we have done well, but we
discount this because we say it was only said to be nice, it wasn't really
meant; or 100 good reviews and one bad review and we focus on the
single bad review.
5. Magnifying or Minimising (Binocular Vision)
In magnifying/minimising we blow things out of proportion. We make
mountains out of molehills. We tend to minimise the strengths and
qualities of ourselves and others and magnify and exaggerate the
supposed weaknesses, mistakes and errors.
6. Personalisation and Blame
In personalisation and blame if something bad happens we assume it is
our fault. We tend to blame ourselves solely for situations and events
that we were not entirely responsible for. The opposite example is we
take no personal responsibility; we blame other people and situations.
Example "My relationship broke up so it must be all my fault", or "My
relationship broke up so it must be all his/her fault."
7. Labelling and Mislabelling
In labelling/mislabelling we call ourselves and other people by negative
names for our/their supposed shortcomings. These are not based on the
facts, but on only one or two negative incidents. Example "I'm an idiot",
"She's a moron", "I'm stupid".
8. Jumping to Conclusions
In jumping to conclusions we tend to make a negative interpretation even
though we don't have all the facts to support our view.
a. Mind Reading We think we know what other people are thinking
about us, for example, that they think we are stupid,
incompetent, and may disapprove of us; we do not bother to
check this out. For example, if a friend walks by on the other side
of the street we mind read and think I've offended her, so she is
b. Fortune Telling We think that events will turn out bad without
having any evidence to support this view. For example, I'll fail my
exams, or I won't go for the job I want because I know I won't get
9. Emotional Reasoning
In emotional reasoning we let our feelings guide our interpretation of
reality. We think that what we are feeling must be accurate, so if we
feel we are a failure then we must be; if we feel we are ugly then we
must be. We do not look for facts to support what we feel; we have a
feeling and just accept it. If we feel we are weak, useless, stupid we just
accept it. We may be so stressed that we have difficulty with our
emotions and therefore conclude that our marriage is not working,
when in fact it is our blunted emotions that are causing the problem.
We reason from how we feel, I feel an idiot, so I must really be one.
10. Discounting the Positive
In discounting the positive we trivialise the positive things about
ourselves and others saying that these positives do not count for much.
For example your partner says you are good at something, but you say
they are only saying it because they are your partner.
11. Hindsight Thinking
In hindsight thinking we look back at decisions we made in the past and
make judgements about the decision we made. We often think we
should have handled things better, but hindsight thinking is always
20/20. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight we may now make a
different decision with our current knowledge, however we made the
decision at that time with the evidence, knowledge and experience we
had at that time. For example, "When I left University I should have
gone for a different type of job, all the work problems I've got now I
wouldn't have if I had taken that job."
12. What ifs
In what if thinking, we keep asking what if something happens, and we
are not satisfied by any of the answers we get. ". . .but what if I don't do
the three point turn properly?" or "what if I mess up the emergency
stop?", "what if the examiner is a tyrant?", "what if . . .
13. Egocentric Thinking
In egocentric thinking we think that it is important that we persuade others to
think the same way we do. (This is about other peoples thinking) For
example, "I must persuade him to want to vote the same as me if he is going
to be my friend." Or "People must think the way I do."
14. Being Right
In being right error we think we are correct in our thinking, we discount
other evidence and the ideas of others. (This is about our thinking). For
example, "I know I am right, so I won't read the leaflet about the other
15. Control Error
In control errors there could be two distortions:
a. We see ourselves as helpless and externally controlled, we
remain stuck, unable to affect our own life, or anything else in
the world. We see evidence of human helplessness all around
us. Something else is responsible for our pain, loss or failure.
We find it difficult to find or work on solutions. For example, "I
won't get financial stability or have a nice house until I find a
rich man to marry."
b. We feel the opposite of the above, we feel responsible for
everything, carrying the world on our shoulders, we are totally
responsible for ours and others happiness. For example, "It's
my fault that she hates her job, I'm not a very good boss."
16. Change Error
In change error we strive to change the views of others; we blame,
demand, withhold and trade to achieve the change in others we
require. Usually the other person feels attacked and pushed around
and probably does not change at all. We think we have to change
others to achieve our happiness. For example, "You must get better
results in your exams than I did when I was at school; I'll buy you a car if
17. Fairness Error
In fairness error we tend to judge peoples actions by what we think is
fair or not fair. We feel resentful when someone does not act towards
us in a way that we think is fair. Their version of what is fair is probably
different from our version of what is fair. For example, "If my husband
really cared about how I felt, he would take on more responsibility for
the house and the children."
18. Heaven's Reward Thinking
In heaven's reward thinking we do the right thing to gain our reward, we
sacrifice and slave imagining that we are collecting brownie points that we
can cash in some day, making our decisions and actions around what others
need, often ignoring our own needs. For example, "If I look after my own
needs I am being selfish."
19. Unrealistic Comparisons
In unfair comparisons we compare ourselves to other people, work
colleagues etc, and view them as being more successful, better at coping than
we are, are happier than we are, and better at handling life than we are.
Identifying thinking errors is one step towards improving our stress resistant
thinking; the next step is to learn the techniques to challenge and restructure
Click here to be taken to Stressful Core Beliefs