Years ago, when I was working in a bank, our managing director organised an off-sight for the entire team. The idea was for all of us to gather in Birmingham and for each team to talk about the projects they were working on. But the main objective was for people to get to know each other better and build that team spirit. Being very much of a team person, I found this a very exciting initiative. The train ride to Birmingham from London was full of jokes and joy, and as soon as our team arrived in Birmingham we went straight for dinner, as we were all starving. Once we ordered, my colleague sat next to me went to the lady’s room. The food arrived but she hadn’t come back yet. We almost finished the seconds and she was still in the bathroom. Naturally, I started to worry and decided to go and check on her. As I opened the bathroom door, I could hear her sobbing, so I rushed to ask her what had happened. She started to babble “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have come. I hate sleeping in hotels. I didn’t want to sit in the middle, but Jane took the seat I wanted. I should be with my husband, he must be feeling so lonely right now. And the food is awful here”. As soon as she said this last sentence, given that she never saw any of the food we ordered, I realised that nothing was wrong, but unfortunately, she had let her thoughts to get the better of her.
6 Thinking Errors and How to Stop Making Them
But if our thoughts can get the better of us, then how can we change them? Or more importantly: Which thoughts should we change? Although not an exhaustive list, below you can find some of the most frequent thinking errors that we make and that we should try to change to increase our wellbeing:
Error 1 – Thinking everything is awful or a catastrophe: Are you having a low stress day? Why not catastrophise and awfulize something? This is a situation where we focus so much on how terrible and unbearable something is that we lose sight of the reality. When things don’t go to plan and you feel sad about it, just allow yourself to feel sad without adding all the unnecessary internal commentary in your thoughts such as “this is awful” or “this is horrendous”. It’s okay to feel down or anxious at times and that doesn’t mean that life or work are awful, it’s a just a transitory feeling.
Error 2 – Saying “I can’t stand it”: Unlike catastrophising and awfulizing, where you exaggerate the importance of something, here you’re exaggerating the incapacity to cope. i.e. I can’t stand my boss, I quit. Do you really mean that you can’t stand your boss or that you don’t like him? Because you’re going to feel very differently depending on which thinking path you choose.
Error 3 – Worrying about the “What if’s”: “What if my company downsizes and I lose my job?”. This is a situation where you assume that something that could happen, will probably happen, which can cause unnecessary distress. If you feel you’re what-if-ing way too often, then try to record your thoughts on a paper and think of what actions you could take to sort things out. This will give you a sense of control instead of being a passive victim.
Error 4 – Mind reading and conclusion jumping: When you believe you know something to be true, even if you don’t have enough information to come to that conclusion. “HR sets up a meeting in your calendar and you automatically assume it’s bad news”. When this happens, maybe you should first ask yourself: “Do I really have enough evidence to support this belief?”.
Error 5 – Emotional reasoning: This is when you give too much importance to your feelings i.e. You feel anxious about doing something out of your comfort zone and believe that anxiety is correctly warning you not to do it. Now, I’m not advocating for you to never listen to your gut feelings. In fact, I believe that gut feelings play an important role in our decision-making process. However, some short-lived feelings can lead to wrong decisions. When this happens, try to put those feelings into words and see if the words actually make sense to you.
Error 6 – Thinking about what “should” be happening: “My colleagues should be nicer to me and help me out”; “People shouldn’t interrupt me when I’m speaking”. There’s nothing wrong with these statements, people should be nice and help each other out and educated and not interrupt other. However, these statements become a problem when your “should’s” become demands in your head and create some inflexible expectations from others. So, when someone doesn’t follow your self-created rule, you get disappointed and upset. To avoid falling in this “should-ing” trap, be wary of your expectations from others and always second check if they’re realistic for others.
Understanding and recognising these thinking errors is only part of the solution. You also need to consciously change them to get more positive outcomes. However, although you might be changing your inner dialogue to turn off your stress, on an intellectual level, you might still believe what your initial thought pattern was. This is because you’ve been telling yourself these things for years now, so it takes time and practice to actually change and believe your new thoughts.
So, next time when things don’t go to plan, instead of blaming the food, swearing on the neighbours or developing those malicious thoughts towards work or colleagues, choose to take a deep breath, detach yourself from the situation and reconsider your thoughts.
Wish you all a beautiful day.