Ways our thinking can go astray

In a letter he wrote in 1650, Oliver Cromwell made the now often-quoted remark “I beseech you…think it possible you may be mistaken”. The context of his challenge is history, but the challenge itself is frequently worth raising in our everyday lives today.

If we’re depressed, anxious, stressed, or angry we may be having negative, unwanted thoughts that stop us living the life we’d prefer: “nothing’s going right for me”, “everyone will be staring at me”, “I’m a failure”, “there’s no way for me to cope”. We should always have some doubt about the truth of these thoughts; they might just result from mistakes in our thinking. It’s easy to make these mistakes but often difficult to recognise that’s what’s happening. There are many ways that our minds can distort things and produce thoughts that are inaccurate and unhelpful. Here are some of the ways in which our thinking can be mistaken:

Catastrophising: this is a form of exaggerating, where we assume that something will have catastrophic consequences when in fact the consequences will be much less severe than we imagine

All-or nothing thinking: where we think something must be either black or white, neglecting to consider the many shades of grey in between.

Over-generalisation: where we take a specific case and generalise it much too widely, into other circumstances where it doesn’t apply.

Inflated responsibility: where we assume that we are entirely or mainly responsible for something bad, when in fact there were many other factors involved that were outside our control, and/or other people also had a share of the responsibility.

Mental filtering: where we inappropriately fail to consider some information, thinking that it doesn’t apply, when really it does.

Ignoring the positive: where we simply refuse to entertain the idea that there could be a positive way of thinking about something.

Jumping to wrong conclusions: where we reach an incorrect and unhelpful conclusion from an initial thought by making invalid assumptions and/or failing to consider other information. For instance:

  • Mind reading: assuming that we know what’s going on in the mind of another person. It’s very easy to be wrong about this!
  • Fortune telling: making incorrect, negative assumptions about how things will turn out

Emotional reasoning: where we take our feelings as evidence for something, rather than considering the facts rationally.

Labelling and mislabelling: where we fit something into a category and think or act as if it’s a member of that category, when in fact it has its own individual characteristics. We often do this about people, too.

Personalisation: where we assume that something is directed at us personally, when in fact it’s not. For example, we pass someone we know and they don’t greet us: we take this as a deliberate personal sleight, when in fact they’re just distracted at that moment.

In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, one of the therapeutic approaches we offer at Lemons to Lemonade, you’ll learn how to cast doubt on unhelpful, negative thoughts by systematically investigating the evidence you have that supports them and comparing that with all the evidence you have that does not support them. If you’re having CBT with Lemons to Lemonade then you’ll do this in therapy sessions to begin with, and later your therapist will encourage you to start doing this for yourself.

If you’re depressed, anxious, stressed, or angry, or if you’re having negative, unwanted thoughts that stop you living your life as you’d prefer, therapy can help. You can contact us by email at contact@lemonstolemonade.co.uk or by phone on 07376 010506.