How a classic thinking error can trip you up and what to do about it.
When things aren’t going well do you ever think or talk about ‘them’ or ‘they’?
Do ‘they’ ‘always’ do negative stuff? Do ‘they’ ‘never’ do positive stuff?
Congratulations, you’re making a classic thinking error. Thinking errors, or cognitive distortions, are basically mistakes in how we interpret what is going on around us. They’re seldom helpful.
If you find yourself thinking they always or never do something you’re not only jumping to conclusions and believing things that may not be true but you’re making it worse by assuming that everyone thinks those things all the time.
Overgeneralising is really common thinking error. It can trick you into believing lots of things that aren’t true, especially negative thoughts about yourself and what you can do. It can also cause you to misunderstand other people’s motives.
Here’s one I heard recently: they always think I’m wasting time, they never see all the hard work I put in behind the scenes. They have no idea how long this stuff takes. They just don’t appreciate me, they want me out.
That all may be true, but it probably isn’t. In any case how do you know?
When you’re falling into the overgeneralising trap it helps to get specific so ask yourself:
Who are ‘they’? Come up with names! You’ll find you’re thinking of one or two people at most not everybody you know.
When did they think you were wasting time?
Why would they think you were wasting time? Were you? Do you think you were wasting time?
How do you know they were thinking that? Did they tell you? Have you told them about the hard work and how long stuff takes? If not, how could they know?
How do you know they don’t appreciate you and want you out? Where’s the evidence?
A more correct statement may be: John seems to think I’m wasting time. I’ve never told him how much work I put in behind the scenes so he doesn’t know how long this takes. He’ll appreciate it, and me, more if I go through the process with him.
Doesn’t that look different?