Unhelpful Thinking Tendencies (Part II)

Once we are aware of any one or more unhelpful thinking tendencies, we can then begin challenging unnecessarily negative thoughts and practise using different language which better reflects the shades of grey of reality, training the brain to move further away from instinctive black-and-white (emotional) thinking. Here are some examples of some typical black-and-white thinking styles and possible contrasting ways of looking at things.

Type of black-and-white thinking

Some examples and possible contrasts

This thinking style is unhelpful by…

Focusing on the negative

The tendency to discount any positive elements involved or to interpret them as flukes attributable to external factors

It was a disaster” “I’m a failure” Contrast: “It didn’t go as well as I hoped. I’ll try something different next time and see how that works.” “Sometimes I’m less successful in…than I would like but at least I’m good at...”

discounting other relevant positive information and failing to take appropriate credit for our successes no matter how small they may be.


The tendency to look for someone or something specific to carry the can when things go wrong – often oneself – and discounting the rest of the bigger picture

It’s all my/his/her fault” “It’s all in the genes” “It’s hardly surprising given the things that have happened to me” “I’m trapped” Contrast: “I’m sorry for my part but I’ve learned from it.” “My past has taught me how I want to live my life and what’s important to me.”

not acknowledging the responsibility to ourselves and to others to be fair, learn and take charge of our life. Also, when blaming someone or something else, risking becoming a bitter and resentful victim which disempowers us from taking action.

Predicting catastrophe

The tendency to misuse the imagination to create disasters ahead

I’m bound to fail” “I’ll never get a proper job” Contrast: “I’m going to do my best.” “I need to work more on improving the way I...”

priming for the negative outcome we are predicting. What we focus on is generally what we get.

Jumping to negative conclusions

The tendency to reach a negative conclusion before seeking/examining the evidence

He/she hasn’t called/replied to me – he/she doesn’t like/love/value me/is cross with me” Contrast: “I expect there are many explanations and tolerating uncertainty is a valuable skill…”

making us stop looking for other explanations even though we don’t have enough evidence to support the conclusion.


The tendency to assume we know what someone else is thinking even though we don’t actually know

He/she is ignoring me – he/she must hate me/not like/love/value me” Contrast: “There are bound to be all sorts of possible reasons why he/she didn’t see/hear/respond.”

making us judge someone unfairly and risk attributing to them thoughts or feelings which they haven’t had. To ASSUME is

to make an ASS out of U and ME.


The tendency to take more responsibility for something than is our fair share or assuming that someone else’s behaviour is our responsibility

It’s all my fault” “If only I hadn’t…then that would never have happened” Contrast: “I accept my share of responsibility for this. I have made/will make amends and have learned from it.” “I’m sure they had their reasons to…”

making us feel 100% responsible for things that aren’t 100% our fault or responsibility. If we have actually made a mistake, an appropriate share of responsibility is OK as it allows us to learn, but more is neither fair nor helpful.


The tendency to brand our core identity negatively in a global and permanent way

I’m hopeless/stupid/unlovable/a failure” Contrast: “I feel frustrated/ lonely/disappointed right now. I need to have fun/value what I have/ company/find a more stretching job/improve... I’m going to do something about it by…”

making us feel worse and disempowered from taking any action rather than being compassionate and fair with ourselves.


The tendency to ‘awfulise’ even though what has happened is really only undesirable or unpleasant


There’s no point trying” “My life is ruined” “I’ll never have a relationship now” Contrast: “This is undesirable/unpleasant but I value the things I’ve got going for me. I’m curious to find out which new experiences I will enjoy most…”

making us miss out on the bigger picture and stopping us learning new ways of approaching things to get what we want by exaggerating and dwelling on only negative consequences.

Perfectionism and tyranny of the shoulds

The tendency to set up too high and rigid standards than are objectively required or than are realistic

*SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited

I should/must/ought to...” “Life should be fair” Contrast: “I’m going to set some SMART* tasks for myself and do my best.” “Life is inherently unfair and bad things happen to good people. It’s how I react to things which is important.”

priming ourselves for failure and/or disappointment often leading to procrastination rather than becoming a more flexible thinker with a good robustness for tolerating uncertainty.


The tendency to draw negative conclusions on limited evidence

I always mess things up” “He/she never listens to me” Contrast: “Sometimes…”

stopping us from considering all of the evidence and learning from experience.