In the first part of this series we began identifying what thinking errors are and how they affect us. In the previous article we explored further, three classic thinking errors, how we can be easily troubled them, blow things all out of proportion and drive our anxiety higher and higher. Here, we will take a look at three, sometimes related, thinking errors that can often cause low mood, depression, low self-esteem and a darkly tinted view of the world around us. These thinking errors are:
- All or Nothing Thinking
- Over Generalisation
- Labelling and Mislabelling
All or nothing thinking is seeing things in the extreme, black or white if you will. The fancy way of describing this is dichotomous thought processing.
When people make this particular thinking error they might describe themselves as something really useless or bad such as “I’m the world’s worst mother or I’m terrible at sports”. When falling into this trap we tend to ignore most of the real evidence such as all the good things you’ve done as a parent or the successes at your chosen pursuits. All or nothing thinking also lends itself to ascribing a judgment to an event or time period – “it was the worst day of my life!” for example.
Over generalisation describes the thinking error we make when tarring everything in a category with the same brush. Sometimes this can lead to very unpleasant thoughts about ourselves or others. Labelling and mislabelling is described by Dr Rick Norris in Think Yourself Happy as an extreme form of over generalising and the former can frequently lead to the latter. If we ever believe we are doomed to failure because we have had a bad result and see our future in terms of this one event, this is over generalising. If we then call ourselves an idiot, this is mislabelling. If we find ourselves calling all women bad drivers, this is over generalising. Misogynistic or racist stereotyping is an extreme form of over generalising leading to further emotional issues such as frustration or anger.
Below are some top tips for dealing with these three thinking errors. Some are the same tips with a slightly different slant as those featured in Part 2.
Top Tip 1 – Scribe
Make a few bullet points of examples of your own series of the three thinking errors. How does it feel now that you have written it or them down? Does any of what you wrote feel challengeable? What would you say to a friend if they were making the same thinking error? How will you feel if you can look at this from a logical standpoint and eliminate the error?
Top Tip 2 – A Thin Black Line
Draw a thin black line and write the extreme viewpoints at either end. For example you could write ‘very bad person’ at one end and ‘very good person’ at the other. Now under each heading write down the traits of these two kinds of people and see where you really match up. You could even place real or fictional good and bad people under each heading. You don’t have to be perfect to move along the line from bad to good.
Top Tip 3 – The Positives
Whatever it is that you are thinking ill of, whether it be yourself, the kid’s school or your job, stretch your thinking and write down a list of the positive qualities the subject of your thinking has. You might well find this very difficult to begin with but this is a genuinely advanced thinking strategy that will buy your mind some flexibility – yoga for the brain. Challenge your attitudes and prejudices. Not easy is it? But this is a quantum leap forward in challenging thinking errors.
These three thinking errors are often of our own making, putting a huge slice of our psychological health on our own plate and firmly within our control. Things are rarely black or white and just as infrequently classifiable in one of our own genaralisations. See if the three tips can help the next time you think you are having ‘ a bad day’.