Thinking Errors - Cognitive Behavior Therapy

"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." - Albert Einstein

“People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.” - Epictetus

Below is a helpful tool to take a closer look at common ways people tend to think that will lead to depression and/or anxiety. Most people are able to identify at least one of these thoughts to start challenging and restructuring to begin thinking in a more helpful and realistic way.

Here are Common Types of "Thinking Errors":

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking. (“I can’t do ANYthing right!”) Thinking on black-and-white terms instead of recognizing the greys.

2. Overgeneralizing. Assuming a one-time event will happen again. ("Always" and "Never")

3. Mental Filter. Focusing on negatives while ignoring positives. Filtering out positives to the point of seeing a situation as entirely negative.

4. Jumping to Conclusions. "Mind reading" - assuming you know what someone is thinking, or "fortune telling" predicting the worst for yourself and then treating the prediction as fact.

5. Catastrophizing or Minimizing. Blowing out of proportion the importance of something negative. An outcome seems catastrophic to you. Minimizing the positives by shrinking their significance. Making good things appear smaller.

6. Emotional Reasoning. Taking your emotions as proof. Assuming something is true because you feel it is.

7. "Should" statements. Putting high expectations on yourself with "shoulds, musts, oughts" and feel guilty when you don't follow through. Becoming resentful of others when they disappoint you.

8. Labeling and Mislabeling. Labeling yourself rather than identifying a behavior.

9. Disqualifying the Positives. Turning positives into negatives by insisting they "don't count".

10. Personalization. Taking responsibility for things you don't have control over. Blaming yourself and feeling guilty because you assume something is your fault.

Questions to Challenge these thoughts:

  1. What evidence do I have for this thought?

  2. Is there an alternative way of looking at the situation?

  3. How would someone else think about the situation?

  4. Are my judgments based on how I felt rather than what I did?

  5. Am I setting for myself an unrealistic and unobtainable standard?

  6. Am I forgetting relevant facts or focusing too much on irrelevant facts?

  7. Am I overestimating how much control and responsibility I have in this situation?

  8. What would be the worst thing that could happen?

  9. If it is true, what does that mean, or so what? What would be so bad about that?

  10. What are the real and probable consequences of the situation?

  11. Am I underestimating what I can do to deal with the problem or situation?

  12. Am I confusing a low-probability event with one of high probability?

  13. What are the advantages and disadvantages of thinking this way?

  14. How will things look, seem or work in X (number) months?

5 Steps in a Thought Record:

  1. Describe the situation that led to an unpleasant emotion

  2. Name the emotion

  3. Identify the automatic thought

  4. Evaluate the accuracy of the automatic thought - replace it

  5. Re-rate your emotion

(Taken from CBT: Integrating Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies into Your Practice by Michael Otto et al. &

CBT for PTSD by Rothbaum and Foa)

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