Thinking about thinking. Is your thinking reliable? Think again!
In spite of what we think, thinking styles can sometimes be faulty and unreliable. Sometimes it helps to be thinking about thinking and, maybe, think about changing your thinking style, or not. We may well believe our way of thinking about people and things, is balanced, fair and reasonable even at times profound. Here are some common thinking styles that can at best be unhelpful and, at worst, downright dangerous:
With this thinking style, we have a ready expectation that things will go horribly wrong. Not only will they go horribly wrong, we will be utterly useless in terms of coping or problem-solving.
This is when we decide we know what people are thinking and feeling. If we are feeling low, experiencing low self-esteem, we may seek out evidence to prove our low opinion of ourselves is justified by deciding people are thinking critically about us.
Here, we can make decisions about huge categories based on very little evidence. If we don’t do well in an exam, we decide we are a failure! We are always a loser! If a Martian cuts us off in traffic, all Martians are bad drivers! Always!
‘All or Nothing’ Thinking
This ‘black and white’ thinking style simply defaults to extreme perceptions of situations, people, and things. This can mean we have perfectionist expectations of ourselves and others. Truly a recipe for disappointment and unhappiness!
Here, we think we know best about the ethics of a given situation or person. When someone offends this standard, we rail at the injustice of it all! We can experience extreme hurt and resentment at the unfairness when others do not behave as we believe they should. If only…
‘All about Me’ thinking
With this personal referencing style, we think that what people say or do is connected to us somehow. Like mindreading referred to earlier, this distorted cognitive style makes connections that are rarely valid. The boss enters with a sour expression and we decide are about to be made redundant. Little do we know that his alimony responsibilities have been adjusted upward!
With a negative filtering cognitive style, we delete anything positive from an experience and concentrate on the negatives. We make a 50 minute presentation at work and focus on one slip in an otherwise flawless effort. Problematically, this distorted focus leads to conclusions about ourselves and others that influence behaviours that do not serve us well
The styles of thinking briefly sketched here are just indicators of the kinds of bias operating for us all some of the time. here are a few tips to help address cognitive distortions.
Fixing Cognitive Distortions
In the first instance, familiarity with the simple categories listed above, is a good start. Thinking about thinking styles that do not serve you well, such as mind reading, deciding you know what people are thinking and feeling, you are well placed to adjust your style.
Try alternative thinking styles. If you find yourself bothered by some conclusion you have reached e.g. your presentation was a disaster because you’re paying attention to a small gaffe and neglecting the whole thing, try applying other possibilities, find evidence that supports and then evidence that rejects your conclusions.
A Moment’s Pause
For example, when the presentation has finished and you focus your attention on the small problematic part and neglect the rest. Stop, enjoy a moment’s pause, and consider how you are filtering the experience. Ask yourself, “what am I not paying attention to here? You may choose to seek some deep-rooted underlying cause, perhaps based in childhood trauma that may explain your cognitive styles. Alternatively, you may choose to focus on improving the relevance of your assessments of reality by investigating how you go about thinking, playing with different styles, like trying on different jackets in a shop before selecting the one that fits best and matches the seasonal context. You might even find the experimentation to be fun in terms of expanding choice and opportunities to match your thinking to the context in a manner that promotes balance and congruence rather than rigidity or discontent. After all, you’ve nothing to lose, but unresourceful habits! Thinking about thinking – making this a habit will make all the difference.