Thinking styles can impact and spiral any existing negative mood. If you’re in the grip of anxiety, depression, anger or other unhealthy negative emotion, you’ll be familiar with the negative thoughts swanning alongside. Sometimes if we have been feeling bad for a long time, you may not even notice these thoughts because they can be so habitual that they have become normalised as a go-to style of thinking. This article focuses on the unhelpful art of jumping to conclusions – otherwise known as those two fairground favourites – crystal ball gazing and mind reading.
Crystal ball gazing, otherwise known as fortune telling, involves the magical art of being able to see into the future with 100% certainty about a future negative outcome. Mind reading, similarly, is the equally miraculous skill of being able to read people’s minds. Sounds silly, right? Well, of course, when I put it like that. So, if we wouldn’t pay someone in a fairground tent for these services, perhaps it makes sense to get on top of our own attempts to predict and jump to conclusions. Let’s take a fairground potshot at these thinking styles and see what we stand to win if we choose not to challenge these unhelpful thoughts...
First off, mind reading. Mind reading is thinking that we know what other people are thinking, that we are certain we know what is going through their minds. Mind reading is common in people with low self esteem or who are suffering from social anxiety. Typical mind reading thoughts might be:
- They don’t like me.
- I can tell he thinks I am stupid.
- She couldn’t be bothered to phone me, because she thinks I am boring.
When we fortune tell or indulge in crystal ball gazing, we are essentially predicting the future. Typical fortune telling thoughts might be:
- I’m going to hate this party.
- I am going to fail this exam.
- My date isn’t going to turn up.
- No-one will talk to me.
The problem with mind reading and fortune telling is that, when we are in a negative emotional state, attempting to work out what is going askew in a situation can go wrong. If you have a negative self or world outlook, then you can easily attribute negative possibilities to otherwise neutral situations. Not only do the thoughts spiral, but these can impact on what you do. If you predict you are going to 'hate this party', you are less likely to go, when what you desire is social opportunities. If you predict your date 'isn't going to turn up', you may make excuses ahead of time and cancel it yourself. If you second-guess that people think you are 'boring', then you are more likely to behave in a socially inhibited way or overcompensate. It's easy to see the problems the jumping to conclusions might lead to.
Jumping to conclusions means you are adding together 1 and 1 and coming up with 10, but in a bad way! As with other unhelpful thinking styles, becoming aware of your go-to thinking habits is step one in overcoming the habit. For some people just noticing the thoughts can be the start of breaking the pattern. In the case of fortune telling and mind reading, if you can take this with a pinch of salt, you might ask yourself, “if you wouldn’t pay someone for those services, then why do it yourself?”
Otherwise you might like to challenge the thoughts by noticing and asking yourself a couple of pertinent, get-to-the-truth-of-it questions. Can I know this for certain? Is there a chance that I am seeing the world through my gloomy specs today? Where is my evidence for this thought? How does this thought help me today? What would a good friend say to me about this situation?
Using these kinds of questions can crack open the fairground coconut which otherwise would stay firmly rooted to its stand. Once you can acknowledge and logically consider this style of thinking, you can earn the biggest prizes - improved mood, flexibility of thinking and the potential to make more helpful choices for yourself.
This one of a series of posts covering unhelpful thinking styles and how to manage them. You can click on the links below to read other posts in the series. I will be adding more in the coming weeks.
Ali Binns is a CBT therapist in Bath. If you feel you could use some additional support to work through unhelpful thinking styles or limiting beliefs, and you live in or near Bath, you can contact Ali on firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about therapy sessions in Bath.