What Are Thinking Mistakes and How Can We Fight Them?

01 March, 2017

Thoughts are the mental products that emerge from the ability we have as human beings to “work” with our mind. That is to say, to reflect upon or interpret everything that happens around us or within our inner world.

Human beings spend our days, hours and entire lives thinking. We evaluate what happens to us, and think about insignificant and even abstract things. Sometimes we even produce thoughts which embarrass us. At other times, we travel within our own minds to the past or the future.

In short, our ability to think is enormous, and knowing how to manage it is an essential part of maintain good emotional health. Our thoughts determine our emotions and these, in turn, determine our behavior.
We call the thoughts that make us experience unhealthy emotions, negative automatic thoughts, biases or cognitive distortions. Not all of our thoughts give rise to relevant emotions. For example, if I think “There is a dog barking” it is very likely that this won’t generate anything on an emotional level.

It would be different if I thought “There is a dog barking” and immediately granted it the meaning “That means that it is mad, and it might attack me”. Here, the scenario changes completely. Because according to my thought, my survival or integrity is involved. This is dangerous, which means that I should activate the response of anxiety, with everything that this entails.

Some typical thinking mistakes

There are many biases of thought, but we are going to focus on analyzing the ones that I personally think are the most typical. The ones which can disturb us in a more pronounced way.

The fortune-teller mistake

This distortion is produced when you’re sure that another person is thinking something in particular. Or also it applies when you think that something is going to happen, and you could even bet on the likelihood of this event taking place.


Obviously, this is not logical because nobody, absolutely nobody, has the ability to predict what’s going to happen in the future, what others are thinking, or even what your own mind will think or do within a couple of years. So, why are we so sure of what is happening or will happen? Or do we have an imaginary crystal ball that tells us these things?

Black and white thoughts 

Through this thinking mistake, you place certain qualities or characteristics at the ends of the spectrum, without taking into account that everything isn’t simply black and white. There’s also a whole scale of grays. How many times have you told yourself that everything went wrong because you made a mistake? Ask yourself: how can one mistake make everything turn bad? Aren’t you exaggerating a little bit?


You oftentimes think yourself the center of the universe, both for good and for evil. And you think that others are constantly dependent on you, on what you do or don’t do, on how you’re dressed, what you say, etc.

The reality is that everyone is caught up in their own issues and not in everyone else’s lives. And if that’s not the case, that person has a problem that they should really take a good look at!

As you may have already guessed, with this mistake, you take everything personally. And this way, you end up feeling a great deal of anxiety, guilt, shyness, etc.


Thinking catastrophically

You usually make this mistake when you exaggerate reality so much, without any kind of evidence, that you see threats and potential dangers everywhere. And you always think in terms of “What if?”, “And what if I cancel?”, “What if my girlfriend leaves me?”, “What if I’m sick?”. To all of these questions you add the adjective of “terrible”. And you live it as if it had truly already happened. As if it were a catastrophe that you cannot recover from.

How can I make my thinking more objective?

Keep in mind that all of these thinking mistakes emerge from different beliefs that are rooted into our being and which have been entrenched into us since childhood. Thus, being objective is a process that requires time and effort, but which can help you feel better.

You will become a more scientific and rational being, making less biases of thought, if you do the following:

Interpret reality solely with your five senses

We can only know our reality by observing it, touching it, savoring it, listening to it and smelling it. There is no sixth sense that can give us any other additional information. Therefore, be aware of what you are living in the present moment, with your five senses. Because in this moment, that is the reality you have access to. What is going to happen in the future or is happening in another place or in the mind of another person, that is not your reality nor can you truly know it.

Ask yourself scientific questions

If you want to know reality, besides using your five senses, you can ask yourself things like: How can I be sure that my coworker is criticizing me? What proof do I have to think that I will be in an accident if I drive? What are the chances that I actually have a disease?

Be aware of where those thoughts are coming from

As we have mentioned, biased thoughts come from beliefs. These are like the roots of a tree, and cognitive mistakes are its flowers. Analyze what your beliefs are, and you will then know why you make these distortions. Do you need love to be happy? Do you think that worrying will help you solve your problems? Do you think that a certain type of person is bad and deserves to be punished?


Perform experiments 

As if you were a scientist, you should perform experiments that will confirm whether or not what you think is true or biased. If, for example, you think that someone is talking about you behind your back, you’ll have to be brave and ask that person whether or not this is true.

Their answer will help you realize whether it was all a story you made up in your head, or if it was truly happening. This person could also lie to you, but you have no control over that! So, focus on the things you can resolve and forget the rest.