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Ten Common Thinking Errors

By Stephen C. Schultz


With the Holiday Season in full swing, I have personally witnessed the kindness in people as well as some pretty disturbing thoughtless actions. Whether it is total strangers or family members over for a meal, the Holidays tend to bring out the best and the worst in those around us.

Why is that? When I see some of the shoppers on “Black Friday”, I would imagine that if I interacted with them in any other setting, they would be personable, kind citizens, neighbors and friends. What happens in that situation? Why do some people get in their car and seem to have a change in personality? Road rage is real.



Here are a few thoughts for what they are worth. Below is a list of...what are called...“Thinking Errors”. These are common, automatic thoughts we have throughout any given day. We may be thinking this way and not even be aware of it. They are specific ways we look at the world around us and usually these types of thoughts lead to conflict of some kind. This list is adapted from Arden & Linford (2009) and Beck (1995).

Common Thinking Errors

  1. Polarization: This is represented by “All or Nothing” thinking. It is also called “Black or White” thinking. It is the common practice of thinking in extremes.
  2. Over-generalization: This is represented by the notion or expectation that just because something has occurred, it will always occur.
  3. Personalization: This is represented by the feeling that you are the center of events. It is the thought that you are to blame for negative things happening. There may also be thoughts that others are unfairly scrutinizing and judging you.
  4. Mind Reading: This is the practice of making assumptions about what others may be thinking. Often we will apply our own thoughts to others before checking in with them about their own thoughts.
  5. Should & Should Not: This type of thinking is holding on to rigid beliefs about what we “Should or Shouldn’t” do. When used in the extreme, it can cause conflict with others as well as bring on feelings of guilt, failure and shame. It can also interfere with the ability to adapt to one's environment.
  6. Catastrophizing: This is simply seeing the problem or issue as more severe and terrible than it really is.
  7. Magnification & Minimization: This way of thinking is represented by magnifying the positive attributes of others and minimizing your own...or vice versa.
  8. Emotional Reasoning: This is the thought process of seeing and interpreting situations in terms of how you are feeling.
  9. Labeling: This is exhibited when we label ourselves or others. We take on the “Identity” of the situation or problem. For example, someone might say, “I’m an asthmatic.” When in reality, they may suffer from asthma, but they are not the malady they are struggling with.
  10. Discounting Positive Experiences: When we find ourselves being involved in something positive, we may discount them as not important or that it didn’t really matter. Appropriate modesty is actually healthy. When taken to the extreme, it becomes a thinking error.
As we look forward to a New Year, may we all become more aware of our Thinking Errors. We will be glad we did and so will our loved ones. Our friendships will deepen and our relationships will flourish as we take an active role in being aware of our thoughts.

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