Thought Twist: 11 Everyday Thinking Errors that may be Sabotaging you...and others


by Melanie Gallo, PhD

The things we say on a daily basis, both represent and impact how we experience our world. We attempt to capture thoughts, ideas and to describe what we see around us using words. But without fail, the meaning is often "lost in translation".

We lose information through "Generalizations", "Deletion" of information and "Cognitive Distortion". Distortion is where some aspects of ideas and experiences are given more weight and focus than others. We all do this both consciously and unconsciously, and how we do this provides pointers to our underlying beliefs about ourselves, others and the world.

Below is a list of the Top 11 Cognitive Distortions (common types of distorted thinking):

Do any of these look familiar to you? 


(1) Mental Filtering: Allowing (dwelling on) one negative detail or fact to spoil you enjoyment, happiness, hope etc.

  • You have a great evening and dinner at a restaurant with friends, but your chicken was under-cooked and that spoiled the whole evening.

  • I just can't believe that I got one wrong on my test! I need to set up a meeting with my instructor to find out where I went wrong.


(2) Jumping to Conclusions (Mind Reading and Fortune Telling):


[Mind-Reading] Making negative assumptions about how people see you without evidence or factual support.Your friend is preoccupied and you don't bother to find out why. You're thinking:

  • She thinks I'm exaggerating again.

  • He still hasn't forgiven me for telling Fred about his illness.

[Fortune Telling] Making negative predictions about the future without evidence or factual support.

  • I won't be able to sell my house and I'll be stuck here (even though housing market is good).

  • No-one will understand.

  • I won't be invited back again (even though they are supportive friends).


(3) Personalization: Blaming yourself when you weren't entirely responsible or blaming other people and denying your role in the situation.

  • If only I was younger, I would have got the job.

  • If only I hadn't said that, they wouldn't have…

  • If only she hadn't yelled at me, I wouldn't have been angry and wouldn't have had that car accident. 


(4) Black and White Thinking: Seeing things as all or nothing, black-or-white, right-or-wrong with nothing in between. Essentially, if I'm not perfect then I'm a failure.

  • I didn't finish writing that paper so it was a complete waste of time.

  • There's no point in playing if I'm not 100% in shape.  

  • They didn't show, they’re completely unreliable!


(5) Catastrophisizing (or Magnifying): (Tounge twister pronounced Kuh-tAs-tro-fi-zing) Blowing things out of proportion. Seeing things as dramatically more important than they actually are, often creating a catastrophe that follows. It is the equivalent of the old saying "making a mountain out of a molehill". 

  • Because my boss publicly thanked her I know she'll get that promotion, not me (even though I had a great performance review and just won an industry award).

  • I forgot that email! That means my boss won't trust me again, I won't get that raise and my wife will leave me. 


(6) Over-generalization: Using words like always, never in relation to a single event or experience.

  • I'll never get that promotion.

  • She always does that…

(7) Labeling: Attaching a negative label to yourself or others following a single event.I didn't stand up to my co-worker,

  • I'm such a wimp!

  • What an idiot, he couldn't even see that coming!


(8) Shoulds: Using "should", "need to", "must", "ought to" to motivate oneself, then feeling guilty when you don't follow through (or anger and resentment when someone else doesn't follow through). 

  • I should have gotten the painting done this weekend.

  • They ought to have been more considerate of my feelings, they should know that would upset me.


(9) Emotional Reasoning: I feel, therefore I am. Assuming that a feeling is true - without digging deeper to see if this is accurate.

  • I feel such an idiot (it must be true).

  • I feel guilty (I must have done something wrong).

  • I feel really bad for yelling at my partner, I must be really selfish and inconsiderate.


(10) Minimizing:  Seeing things as dramatically less important than they actually are. Treating positive characteristics or experiences as insignificant, devaluing yourself or even your team.

  • Sure, I'm good at my job but my parents don't respect me.

  • Yes I got a raise but it wasn't much and I'm not very good at my job. 

  • Thanks but it's no big deal. Anyone could have done that.


(11) Disqualifying the Positive:  Transforming neutral or positive events into negative ones. Positives aren't just ignored, they are morphed into their horrible opposites. 

  • "You look great today!" Thanks but you are just saying that to be nice.



Singleton, R. S., Conrad,  J. A., and Healy, J. W.

(2000). Filmmaker's dictionary. Lone Eagle Publising


Gilbert, P. (1998). The evolved basis and adaptive functions of cognitive distortions. British Journal of Medical Psychology, (71)447–463.


Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library. iBooks


Burns, D. D. (1980). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: New American Library. Paperback

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