Friday, April 5, 2013

Common Thinking Errors Leading to Negative Self-Talk

And now we shall discuss some things that most of us should be pretty familiar with by now:

There are some common thinking errors that most of us make from time to time when we’re feeling anxious, angry or depressed. Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that can cause you to feel bad and sometimes act in self-defeating ways. Whenever you find yourself feeling upset, look for any thinking errors that might be contributing to the way you feel.

Challenging your thinking errors

Here are 10 common thinking errors and ways to challenge them.

1. Black-and-white thinking

When you’re thinking in black-and-white, you see everything in terms of being either good or bad with nothing in between. For example: either you’re great, or you’re a loser; If you don’t look like a model, you must be ugly; if you do something wrong, then you are completely bad.

The challenge: Look for shades of gray

It’s important to avoid thinking about things in terms of extremes. Most things aren’t black-and-white, but somewhere in-between. Just because something isn’t completely perfect doesn’t mean that it’s a total disaster.

Ask yourself:
  • Is it really so bad, or am I seeing things in black-and-white?
  • How else can I think about the situation?
  • Am I taking an extreme view?

2. Unreal ideal

Another common thinking error is to make unfair comparisons between certain individuals and yourself. When you do this, you compare yourself with people who have a specific advantage in some area. Making unfair comparisons can leave you feeling inadequate.

The challenge: Stop making unfair comparisons

Ask yourself:

  • Am I comparing myself with people who have a particular advantage?
  • Am I making fair comparisons?

3. Filtering

When you filter, first you hone in on the negative aspects of your situation. Then you ignore or dismiss all the positive aspects.

The challenge: Consider the whole picture
Ask yourself:

  • Am I looking at the negatives, while ignoring the positives?
  • Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation?

4. Personalizing: The self-blame game

When you personalize, you blame yourself for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s not your fault or responsibility.

The challenge: Find all the causes
Ask yourself:

  • Am I really to blame? Is this all about me?
  • What other explanations might there be for this situation?

5. Mind-reading

We often think we know what other people are thinking. We assume that others are focused on our faults and weaknesses—but this is often wrong! Remember: your worst critic is probably you.

The challenge: Don’t assume you know what others are thinking
Ask yourself:

  • What is the evidence? How do I know what other people are thinking?
  • Just because I assume something, does that mean I’m right?

6. Exaggerating

When things go wrong, you might have a tendency to exaggerate the consequences and imagine that the results will be disastrous.

The challenge: Put it in perspective
Ask yourself:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • What’s the best that can happen?
  • What’s most likely to happen?
  • Will this matter in five years?
  • Is there anything good about the situation?
  • Is there any way to fix the situation?

7. Over-generalizing
Over-generalizing is a lot like exaggeration. When you over-generalize, you exaggerate the frequency of negative things in your life, like mistakes, disapproval and failures. Typically you might think to yourself: I always make mistakes, or everyone thinks I’m stupid.

The challenge: Be specific
Ask yourself:

  • Am I over-generalizing?
  • What are the facts? What are my interpretations?

8. Fact versus feeling
Sometimes you might confuse your thoughts or feelings with reality. You might assume that your perceptions are correct.

The challenge: Stick to the facts
Ask yourself:

  • Am I confusing my feelings with the facts? Just because I’m feeling this way, does that mean my perceptions are correct?
  • Am I thinking this way just because I’m feeling bad right now?

9. Labeling

When you use label, you might call yourself or other people names. Instead of being specific—for example, saying “That was a silly thing to do” —you make negative generalizations about yourself or other people by saying things like “I’m ugly,” or “she’s an idiot.”

The challenge: Judge the situation, not the person
Ask yourself:

  • What are the facts and what are my interpretations?
  • Just because there is something that I’m not happy with, does that mean that it’s totally no good?

10. ‘Can’t Stand-itis’
Some people get intolerant when they have to do things they don’t enjoy. They tell themselves that they “can’t stand” certain things instead of acknowledging that they don’t enjoy them. As a result, they easily become frustrated and angry.

The challenge: Accept that frustration is a normal part of life
Ask yourself:

  • I don’t enjoy it, but I can stand it.
  • This is a hassle, and that’s O.K.! Life is full of hassles.

The effect of challenging thinking errors

What is the effect of challenging your thinking errors? It can make you feel better and encourage you to change some of your behavior.

Remember: When you’re feeling down, try to examine your thoughts. If they’re negative or critical, try challenging them. Once you get into the habit of disputing your negative self-talk, you’ll find it easier to handle difficult situations, and as a result, you’ll feel less stressed and more confident and in control.

Write it down

It can be useful to write down the changes that occur after you’ve challenged your thinking, as this helps you see the advantages of working on your thoughts, and motivates you to keep at it. While you’re learning to identify and challenge your thinking patterns, it’s a good idea to write it all down in a diary or notebook to help you to develop your skills. Initially it might feel like work, but the more often you do it, the easier it will become, and the better you will feel.

Try it out

Now that you know a few common thinking errors and how to challenge them, why don’t you try it out? It might not be easy at first, and it can take some time. But the rewards can be huge! People who choose the way they think about things, are at peace with the past, live in the present, and are optimistic about the future are generally happier.

This fact sheet comes from Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise RĂ©mondFoundation for Life Sciences (2005)

The “Ten common thinking errors” are derived from the work of David Burns, MD, author of Feeling Good.


These are all things that we really need to learn to focus on in the moment of our distress. Which is much harder to do than it sounds. So don’t be discouraged if you can’t do it right away, or every time. If all you can do is tell yourself to ‘breath and slow down’, than you’re doing something very right. Don’t be discouraged! And don’t let anyone else tell you that you’re not healing fast enough. Hell, don’t let yourself tell you that you’re not making progress fast enough! That you’re trying, means you’re making progress! 

For Parts 1 and 2 of this Self-Talk series go here:

What is Self-Talk and Negative Self-Talk?
Challenging Negative Self-Talk


  1. This is a good post, great ideas and tips. It doesn't take much to get started learning to talk to yourself more positive, and once you get going your're there! I read Riana Milne's book, Live Beyond Your Dreams recently. She is a life coach as well as an author. But she discusses positive self talk, and it was a really great way to go about it. is her site, she may have a blurb on there about it, but if nothing else the book was a great read on personal growth. I am going to apply some of your tips to my daily routine and see what I can accomplish! Thanks for this post!

  2. Thank you so much for this! I have been struggling with some of these for the past few days and needed help...this saved me.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...