Just thinking about thinking is sobering. Many of us, on our journey of life at some time or another, are captive to one or more of the identified distorted thinking paradigms below. It may not be a light-hearted subject, but those brave enough will embrace the opportunity to shed light on our tendency to extreme and inaccurate thinking. Without the wisdom of awareness, we may remain stuck in our patterns. We might miss the opportunity to achieve healthy, successful constructs that positively impact on ourselves and those around us. One of the key outcomes of a coaching relationship is in helping us to develop depth and clarity of thinking.  Once we admit to distorted thinking, we’re better equipped to change it.

Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects. Sometimes people have a characteristic theme for their filter, such as danger (safety), or loss or injustice. They view and evaluate everything through that lens.

Polarised Thinking: Things are black and white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground. Things are either awful or terrific, right or wrong. There is no realistic grey area.

Overgeneralisation: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incidence or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. If someone lets you down once you assume that you can never trust them again.

Mind Reading: Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you. You think that your assumptions about what others are thinking are true.

Catastrophizing: You notice or hear about a problem and start “what-ifs”. What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you? You immediately assume the worst possible outcome This is your style.

Control Fallacy: If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as a totally helpless victim of fate. You don’t believe that you can effectively influence the important outcomes. They are out of your control. Or conversely, you feel excessively respon- sible. Everything depends on you, and if things do not go well, it is all your fault. The fallacy of control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you. This is a sizeable burden.

Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair, but other people won’t agree with you. Fairness is a big standard for you. You think everything should be fair, even though there is insufficient evidence to indicate that life is particularly fair. When things go poorly, you are liable to respond with “that’s not fair. It’s just not fair. It shouldn’t be that way.

[Based on the work of McKay, Davis & Fanning (1981), from Peltier’s The Psychology of Executive Coaching]

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