A photo of a young black man outside rubbing his forehead with his hand to represent - What We Know About Thinking Errors

What We Know About Thinking Errors

The human mind is probably the most complex thing known to mankind. But weirdly, this complex system loves to create shortcuts and is prone to errors. Our minds can develop faulty ways of thinking, or thinking errors (cognitive distortions), which are illogical. Basically, our thoughts no longer align with reality. But annoyingly, we’re largely unaware that we’ve developed these thinking errors.


Before we begin, it should be noted that a lot of these thinking errors will overlap with each other. That’s because they’re not uniquely separate errors, but rather a helpful way to label thinking that causes us harm.



What Are These Thinking Errors?


All or nothing thinking

Seeing things in black or white. This kind of thinking has no concept of the grey area that exists in the real world. You are either a success or a failure, good or evil. 


This kind of thinking can be found in perfectionists. I’ve struggled with perfectionist issues, due in part to the racist abuse I suffered as a child. This perfectionist issue was why I ended up destroying my hair (Traction Alopecia: The Hair Pulling Question). I also can’t be seen to be “trying”. If I’m going to do something then I want people to see that I’m good at it, which means I rarely try things I’ve not done before, due to this kind of thinking.


Examples of all or nothing thinking:

  • It’s pointless to try if I’m not going to be the best.
  • I’m a total failure if I don’t finish first in this competition.


Filtering out the positives

With this kind of thinking, you’re only able to see the negative things and you dwell on them so much that it distorts your view of a person or situation.


I imagine a lot of people with depression and other mental health issues may suffer from this way of thinking. I know I have, and still do.


An example of filtering out the positives:

  • I’ll never forget how they let me down that one time.


Converting positives into negatives

You reject your own achievements and other positive experiences. You argue that these don’t count. You do this so you can maintain a negative worldview that is contradicted by your actual experiences.


I’m guilty of this kind of thinking. I don’t believe any compliment that’s given to me by someone I know, because they have a reason to lie. Little white lies exist for a reason, and we tell them to make other people feel better about themselves. I’ve engaged in white lies, and so has everyone else. Thus, I only believe in compliments if they come from strangers. My partner hates this fact.


An example of converting positives into negatives:

  • They only gave me that compliment because they wanted to make me feel better.


Jumping to negative conclusions

With this kind of thinking, you will find yourself leaping to a negative conclusion even when there’s little to no evidence that that is the case.


I am very pessimistic, so I’ve done this a lot. Weirdly, though, I’m the opposite when it comes to the other people and their possible outcomes.


Examples of jumping to negative conclusions:

  • This relationship will end in disaster.
  • I’ll never be able to get into shape.



You keep jumping to the absolute worst-case scenario, and often an entirely unrealistic scenario.


My partner is guilty of this one, but I’ve not really noticed this one as much for myself. Or at least I can’t recall any instances of me doing it.


An example of catastrophising:

  • My boss and coworkers all think I’m utterly useless at my job because I don’t work as fast as they do.


Mistaking feelings for facts

Confusing feelings or beliefs with facts. Feelings and beliefs that aren’t supported by evidence is a dangerous things.


Again, my partner suffers from this one a lot more than me.  Although, I have these thoughts too due to my long-term depression. It’s hard not to when you’re depressed.


An example of mistaking feelings for facts:

  • I’m a failure because I feel like a failure.



This involves believing that you are the sole cause of everything negative around you. Even though that’s just not possible.


If you’ve experienced this kind of thinking error, then you may need to work on your personal boundaries. That’s because you might be in a codependent or abusive relationship.


An example of personalising:

  • My partner has come back from work in a bad mood. I must have done something to upset them.


Self put-downs

This is pretty self-explanatory. You undervalue yourself and put yourself down. This kind of thinking will obviously damage your self-esteem, self-worth, and your self-confidence.


My partner and I both suffer from this kind of thinking error, and I would imagine anyone with depression or other mental health issues would do too.


Examples of self-put-downs:

  • I’m stupid.
  • I’m useless.


‘Should’ statements

Using ‘should’ like statements can lead to feelings of guilt and disappointment. If you direct them at other people, then you can end up feeling disappointed, angry, and even resentful towards them. These statements are a negative thinker’s best friend.


To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to ‘should’ type statements that I make, so I’m not sure if this is an issue for me. But apparently, they can increase anxiety and avoidance behaviours, from which I actually suffer. Not sure why this style of thinking doesn’t seem to be an issue for me. Maybe it’s because of the specific underlying belief at the core of my anxiety disorders and my drive to avoid everything.


Examples of ‘should’ statements:

  • I should say something to him.
  • My friends must always be on time.



With this error, you take a single event and blow it way out of proportion (turning a single event into a limitless pattern). I think this one might also explain why some people hold discriminatory views.


I know I’ve never had discriminatory views based on such thinking, or at all. But I have had the other version of this thinking, whereby one bad experience of trying to do something has then made me think I’m terrible at doing that thing. Again, I assume a lot of people struggling with mental health issues may experience this form of overgeneralising.


Examples of overgeneralising:

  • You know someone from a different race than you who’s lazy, so all people from that race are lazy.
  • I missed up giving a speech, so I’m incapable of public speaking.




Possible Solutions To Thinking Errors


Identifying your thinking errors is the first step. Once you’re able to recognise your thinking errors, the next step will be to better understand them, which will allow you to take action to change and challenge them.


Exceptions to the rule

Look for evidence that your thoughts aren’t true because it’s highly likely that they aren’t true at all. Examine the evidence and look for realistic thought(s). Then begin replacing the errored thoughts that are lying to you with realistic thoughts. Take note, I said realistic, and not overly positive or idealistic thoughts. With practice, you should be able to change the way you think, although it might take a while, so don’t give up.


What advice would you give to a friend?

We often give better advice to others than we follow ourselves. So we need to flip the script on that. Thus, think about the advice you’d give to someone else to help overcome their thinking error(s), and apply it to yourself.



A lot of these thinking errors can be overcome if we take the time to work on our self-esteem. Which is easier said than done. I know my self-esteem is still in the toilet. So try to find ways that will allow you to build up your self-esteem.


How bad would it be if your thoughts were true?

Will it really be as bad as you think if you don’t get the job you were interviewed for? You’ve weathered tough times before, and you will again. Each time you do, you’ll buildup more resilience to the fear of failing, and help banish those thinking errors.


I know being rejected sucks, but at the same time, the only real failure is to never try at all. That doesn’t mean it’s not scary, because it is, but that’s what makes succeeding even better. Don’t worry, I also struggle to follow my own advice: do better than me.


Weirdly, I rarely prep for interviews as I generally never remember anything from that kind of preparation (or studying for that matter). So I ad-lib. But I’ve never gone to an interview thinking I won’t get the job or I’ll do badly, as I believe in my ability to think on my feet. It’s probably the only time I don’t expect the worse


Thinking errors: Solutions for catastrophising

The first step to overcoming your catastrophising thoughts is to recognize when you’re doing it. Then, once you’ve noticed when you’re doing it you can practice thinking about other outcomes in order to override this thinking error.


You could also keep a diary to help you track your catastrophising. That way you can note down when you have them and what triggered them. This will allow you to identify warning signs so you know when to implement thinking about other possibilities, and likely more plausible, outcomes.


The picture is split in two with the top image being of a black woman sitting and thinking and the bottom image being of a white man sloughing in a window ledge looking out of a window and thinking. The two images are separated by the article title - What We Know About Thinking Errors


Thinking errors: Solution for overgeneralising

Overgeneralising is a sloppy and lazy thinking shortcut error. If you want to beat this error, then examine the evidence. Does one or two instances of something prove the norm? To answer that, you could perform an analysis of the situation. Talking to someone else about the situation can also help you reach a better conclusion.


Thinking errors: Solution for filtering out the positives

One suggestion to combat filtering is a cost-benefit analysis. A person with this distortion may want to sit down and assess whether filtering out the positive and focusing on the negative is helping or hurting them in the long run.


Thinking errors: Solution for mistaking feelings for facts

Humans are emotional creatures, but it’s how we interpret those emotions that can cause us problems. The way we feel isn’t an indicator of fact or truth, so remember when you feel something is true, rather than knowing something to be true, these feelings are short-lived and they will pass. Challenge your feelings to avoid this thinking error and try to ground them in evidence.


Thinking errors: Solutions for jumping to negative conclusions

Try to remember the times when you’ve previously jumped to the incorrect conclusion, and compare that to the situation you’re making a rash conclusion about now.


Improve your ability to see the bigger and/or the whole picture, as this should help you avoid jumping to conclusions as well.


Thinking errors: Solution for ‘should’ statements

It may be helpful to write your ‘should’ statements down whenever you find yourself experiencing this thinking error. Then reframe it by writing a more realistic and positive statement. Notice how many ‘should’ statements you use throughout your day and start replacing them today.


As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with thinking errors, or state any you think should also be discussed, in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.


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68 thoughts on “What We Know About Thinking Errors

  1. Great post! You were able to identify all of the many ways our Negative thoughts can take control over our emotional, mental and physical health.

  2. I used to have this kind of anxiety during my younger days. Even now the anxiety still come and go. However, I am grateful that I have good people around me. They motivated me and make me believe that I am just as good as anyone else.

  3. What an insightful, thought-provoking article. I love how you have included not only the error but also the solution! Very forward-thinking!

  4. Great post with a detailed breakdown of each way of thinking. Mine is definitely all or nothing thinking which makes me focus too much on the negative

  5. I end up with a lot of ‘should’ statements floating around in my mind, so I loved your suggestions on how to keep them from causing negative effects! I know when I try new things, I make the worse out of any situation and then am surprised by how well it turns out, so I have been trying to recognize the things I can do and build up some positive self-esteem!
    Thanks so much for sharing this piece. 🙂

  6. Really interesting topic! I know I’ve definitely been guilty of some of these things. I’m a perfectionist for sure, but really working on that! Thank you.

  7. Wow! I really loved reading this it was so interesting and something I had never really thought about before! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Funny how I also dropped a similar post on logical errors today but great post nonetheless.
    A really solid list especially the all or nothing one.
    If you’re not a success, you’re a failure. “I tried” doesn’t do because of our perfectionist mentality.

  9. I really enjoyed this information and the way you presented it. Including the thinking error solutions was so helpful. Wonderful read.

  10. What a wonderful read. Very interesting and made me think while I read. Definitely have thought like this in my life. Thank you for the post (:

  11. Your posts are always so thought provoking. I think they are always interesting. I’ve dealt with the perfectionism at times in my life as well.

  12. Interesting post here. Definitely agree with giving better advice to other than we use ourselves – very much a “do as I say, not as I do” person

  13. I struggle so much with all or nothing thinking and definitely with turning positive into negatives. Thank you so much for your wonderful advice, I really need to work on these negative aspects within myself x

  14. My husband tends to think in terms of all or nothing or always or never. I find myself always trying to talk him out of it or telling him why that’s not a good way to think.

  15. It is such a weird inclination to believe in the negative more than the positive. See the amount of effort one has to put in so as to change a break a bad habit? See how fastened people’s mindsets are on childhood beliefs that shape them? This is particularly true for us when working with people to move from survival mode, flip their thought life and begin dreaming afresh of the life of freedom. We have seen people struggle – it is not not easy to grasp the simple steps to being debt free because of childhood beliefs. But the will power is a life saver.
    This is a very informative post.
    H Emma | https://thextraordinarionly.com

  16. I certainly my have experience with plenty of these, self put downs I’d probably the worst one for me. I’ve worked to get better with it as it’s something I would do continuously.

  17. Great tips – I know that I have struggled with some of these myself. I tend to struggle with perfectionist thinking that can often manifest as all or nothing thinking as well as negative self talk (in the event that I see that I did something that I don’t deem as ‘good enough’). Working through those thinking errors isn’t easy, but I will say that I have seen a positive impact on my life in doing the work.

  18. loved this post – I have to watch myself carefully – because it’s so easy to go from creativity to “awfulising and catastrophising” – allowing my mind to completely play games with me, making mountains out of molehills.

  19. Your example for Catastrophising sounds just like me. It’s sometimes so hard to get out of my own head. Work in progress, always! This was a very informative post, thank you.

  20. I like many other have definitely had my fill of thinking errors especially the “all or nothing” thinking. With CBT techniques I have been fortunate to challenge thehm more often than fall into the pitfall.

  21. Thank you for sharing! I am for sure a perfectionist and find some of your points very relatable. I majored in psychology and focused a lot on cognition, and CBT was always discussed with almost every form of mental illness. Working on changing patterns of thinking and cognitive distortions can be SO effective! Great tips

    • Did you learn about metacognitive therapy on your course as well? I only learned about if briefly, but it’s a really useful addition to CBT, especially if CBT isn’t helping as hoped

  22. Great post! I am such an over thinker and your points are really relatable for me 🙂
    Moll x

  23. Well done article! Sometimes I am the “should have” type of person, a bit perfectionist. But then given the situation there are things that you can only do as much as you can. With so much information available these days whether they are correct or not many are misguided thus building this thinking errors.

    • It’s really easy to fall into a thinking errors simply because of how information is presented to you, a tactic often used to manipulate people

  24. Gosh, I am so very glad for the second part of this post. It is great that you listed positive or certainly more active ways of combatting the negatives. It cant be easy I am sure, but starting with trying to change your feelings towards yourself and using words that lift and motivate the self is a step in the right direction. Thank you for writing this post x

  25. This piece is so specific and helpful! Directly responding to each type of thought with a solution, love it 🙂 I can definitely be an all-or-nothing thinker, something I’m always working on.

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