Thought Twist! The Series — #1 Mental Filtering

The tendency to focus on one negative detail, allowing it to ruin your happiness, hope, or enjoyment.


This week we begin our series on everyday thinking errors with the cognitive distortion known as mental filtering. As mentioned in my series introduction, periodically, I will define one of the 11 Thought Twists, provide examples of of the stinkin’ thinkin’, I’ll explain how each mental trap can affect productivity in your life, and then offer possible solutions for correcting it.

Mental filtering is an error in thinking where we alter things out of our consciousness, choosing to instead focus on the negative events instead of the positive ones in a situation.

During mental filtering, you may find yourself dwelling on one negative detail — focusing on what is not working rather than what is working. This eventually prevents you from seeing things clearly. Since your interpretation of reality is based on a flawed negative perspective, it can completely spoil your enjoyment, happiness, and hope while increasing anxiety, dread.

  • I have received a lot of great feedback on my book, but the illustrations would have been more interesting in color.

  • You have a good day at work but your takeout order is wrong so your whole day is ruined.

  • I just can’t believe I got one wrong on my test! That is going to destroy my grade.

  • I know I got a raise but I can’t believe my boss said I was late that one day. I had a doctor’s note. That probably ruined my whole review.

Mental filtering can interrupt your productivity at work by causing you to focus on the hardest part of a task. This thinking error will draw your attention away from a section of your project that requires the least amount of work by making you waste time thinking about a section that you just can’t seem to understand. It will cause you to avoid your whole to-do list when there is one item on it that you just don’t want to tackle. Mental filtering will make you blind to the aspects of your job that you really enjoy, ultimately decreasing your satisfaction and your productivity.


We all know people who, without fail, tend to point out what is wrong in every situation. They complain about everything and never seem to see the good in anything. I have known people like this and one day I finally had to say, “Please. Stop. Complaining!” (If I have ever met you and you think I’m talking about you, I’m not, and you’ll definitely want to read about Thought Twist #2 — Jumping to Conclusions.)


Not only is it a mental drain on the person who is always seeing the glass as half-empty but it is also a drain on those around them. Guys, don’t be that guy. Ladies, don’t be a Debbie Downer. (Side note: The Debbie Downer Saturday Night Live sketches are the best.)


At work: Mental filtering can cause members of a workgroup to misunderstand each other. If several members of the group are simultaneously focusing on the negative aspects of a project, nothing will get done. Nothing is more frustrating during group collaboration than going around in circles about the same issues and not making any progress. Not to mention it wastes precious time and money.


Thought Untwisted: Open your mind.


Ask yourself:

How do the positives outweigh the negatives in this situation? If you realize that you are often looking at the glass half-empty, stop yourself and think again. In order to work through the mental filtering thought twist, try to get into a habit of looking for the good in each situation. After awhile it will become second nature to look for the positives.


At work:

Get the tasks that you can’t stand, out of the way first. You can be happier by refocusing on the positive aspects of your job and training your mind to overlook the negativity. I know — easier said than done but the stress that you experience from thinking about all of the negatives will likely outweigh the actual negatives in that school or work situation.

During a group collaboration, if you notice that most of the comments are negative, make a point to highlight the positive aspects of the idea. This will help to restore focus, improve productivity and move the project forward.

If in the end you can’t find anything positive about your job, then maybe you will find something positive about moving on and finding a new one. Or, maybe it’s time to seriously explore turning your passion into a business. Even a side-hustle can add some professional positivity into your life.


Up Next

Thought Twist #2 — Jumping to ConclusionsThe tendency to focus on one negative detail, allowing it to ruin your happiness, hope, or enjoyment.


If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy reading more from, Thought Twist! The Series — 11 Everyday Thinking Errors that Sabotage the Plot of your Life. In my blog series, I explain where these cognitive distortions originated, then provide examples and solutions for each thinking error.

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