Three thinking errors that could be holding you back


I once worked with a client who became so upset whenever her friends didn’t answer their phone or immediately respond to her texts. She was certain it meant they didn’t really like her. 

It was a real struggle for her when I challenged her to think of some other reasons why they might not be responding immediately.  She had become so convinced this was the only explanation. (I have no idea if this was right or not.) But, the point is that it wasn’t easy for her to even brainstorm other ideas.

This isn’t uncommon either.  We all have our own way of making decisions and processing events that happen to us. We adopt thought patterns that become so engrained in us we make snap judgments before even realizing it.  

This allows us to make decisions quickly, and we stick with the ones we THINK are working for us. However, if we don’t pay attention to our thinking it could be inadvertently leading us down the wrong path. Errors in our thinking could be holding us back!  Here are 3 of the most common ones to watch out for.


Overgeneralization occurs when we form a conclusion about one specific thing and then expand that conclusion out to all other areas of our lives. For example, maybe we just bombed a presentation that we were really excited to give and now we're sitting there thinking, "I'm terrible at everything." Well, that's simply not true!  

We also need to watch out for the flip side of overgeneralizing as well. We could have crushed that presentation and now we’re telling ourselves, "I'm great at everything I try." 

Both of these extreme thoughts can get us into trouble. Avoid the trap of looking at one situation and saying, "This applies to all the other parts of my life."

We need to be realistic about situations. We need to assess how good we are at something based on that activity, not something that happened in another area of our life.


The second thinking error we're talking about is what's called arbitrary inference. This is basically when we come to a conclusion with no supporting evidence.

Here’s an example. Let's say your boss cancels a meeting on you at the last minute and you instantly assume it's because the big project you've been working on is about to be scrapped.

You have no evidence to support this conclusion. But since you don't have all of the information, you begin filling in the blanks with the most negative assumptions you can think up.

This is dangerous! Stop and ask yourself, "What evidence do I have that leads me to this conclusion?" A lot of times you're going to realize your mind is just taking you on a wild ride.

Stop and tell yourself, “I really don't have any evidence for why my boss just canceled this meeting." That's more realistic. It might be because the project is being scrapped. I don’t know. But how does it help to worry about that before you have any information?

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, "What type of evidence do I really have to support this conclusion I immediately landed on?"


Our third thinking error is along the same lines, it's called selective abstraction…essentially selective memory.

It occurs when someone focuses on a single negative detail, disregarding all the positive ones. A great example is during performance review season for companies. Some employees will get all this great feedback and praise from their supervisor, and then one negative piece of feedback will keep them up all night. Selective abstraction can create a great deal of anxiety for individuals.

We need to be able to see the whole picture, and that includes the positive along with the negative.. You can't just pretend the negative ones aren't there, but you need to be able to put it into perspective. You can't tell yourself, "I’m a bad worker because I got this single piece of negative criticism.”

That's not realistic. The truth is you’re probably a very good worker AND you have certain areas to focus on for improvement.


All three thinking errors are in part from not paying attention to all the evidence, or lack thereof, being presented to you. Continually ask yourself a few questions:

  • How did I reach a certain conclusion or decision?

  • Are there other ways to look at this situation?

  • What assumptions am I making?

  • What am I not seeing?


We would love to hear from you to see if this applies to your life, or maybe there are other thinking errors that you're trying to overcome right now. If you're in the Denver area stay warm, it's pretty chilly out there. Have a great week everybody!