• Dr. Jenny Schaafsma, PhD

Unhelpful Thinking Styles

Unhelpful thinking styles are patterned self-statements and thoughts that are usually automatic and can cause emotional distress. Often these unhelpful thinking styles can occur outside of our awareness.


I encourage you to consider whether you use any of the below unhelpful thinking patterns. Once you’ve identified a style(s) you commonly engage in try to bring awareness to when you say these statements to yourself and around others.


Here are a few unhelpful thinking styles:


All or nothing thinking: thinking of things in extremes (e.g., everyone or no one, all or nothing, perfect or a failure)


Catastrophizing: exaggerating the likelihood that something bad will happen (e.g., You haven’t heard from your partner and assume they plan to break up with you)


Fortunetelling: predicting the future negatively (e.g., I will fail my exam)


Mind reading: assuming you can tell what other people are thinking (e.g., They do not like me)


Emotional Reasoning: deciding how things are based on feelings (e.g., I feel anxious, therefore I’m going to not do well on my presentation)


Disqualifying the positive: focusing on the negative and not recognizing and even disqualifying good things that happen (e.g., I received that promotion because of luck. I passed the test because it was simple)


Overgeneralizing: make conclusions based on one incident (e.g., Ben doesn’t like me, therefore everyone must not like me)


What If: frequently question “what if” something happens, and usually focus on negative what ifs about a situation as opposed to positive what ifs (e.g., What if I mess up? What if they don’t like me?)


Personalizing: attributing disproportionate amount of blame to yourself for events (e.g., The project was unsuccessful because I failed)


After we recognize and bring awareness to our unhelpful thinking style(s), it can be helpful to start to challenge and question these thought processes.


You might ask yourself:

  • What evidence do I have for this thought? What evidence do I have against this thought?

  • Is there an alternative explanation?

  • Am I confusing a low-probably event with one of high-probability?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of thinking this way?

  • Is this an example of all or nothing thinking?

  • Am I forgetting relevant facts?

  • Are my judgements based on how I feel rather than what is happening?

  • Is there an alternative explanation?

  • What are real and probably consequences of the situation?


What unhelpful thinking style(s) do you engage in?

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