5 classic thought errors and how to avoid them

We all talk to ourselves. Some of us even do it out loud. Most of us tend to do self-talk naturally, without thinking about it or considering its importance. It usually manifests as a little voice in our head that talks through situations, problems, or ideas. It can do this as a method of seeking solutions, solving puzzles, enforcing short-term memory, or sometimes just for a bit of fun. 


The truth is, self-talk is always consequential, because someone is always listening, and that someone is you. Your subconscious is, on average, up to seven seconds faster than your conscious mind, and is always awake and aware. It pays attention and gives weight to the words the conscious mind chooses. This means that if one isn’t careful, it can be easy to self-hypnotise into a negative, unhelpful state. 

Thought distortions in our inner monologues

Here are some examples of ‘thought distortions’ that show up in our inner monologues

Black and white thinking: “Things are either X or Y”

It’s very rare for any situation to be binary, and this type of thought error can sneak up on you. Instead of ‘X or Y’, it might appear as ‘always or never’, e.g, “Bad things always happen to me” or “I never get the things that I want”. This type of thinking can be challenged by asking yourself to find exceptions to this ‘rule’. Sometimes this can be a bit of a stubborn one to shift, so you have to commit to seeking the exception, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. 

Mind reading: “I knew you were going to say that" or "I can tell you’re upset with me.”

This one’s fairly self-explanatory. We can’t read people's minds, but it’s very easy to project our own meanings onto situations and sometimes onto people. It’s easy to see why; a lot of nonverbal communication and social queues are reliant on us inferring meaning. Challenging this one is much more about embracing ambiguity and uncertainty.

A person may be frowning, so we may assume, ‘They’re upset with me’. Of course, this depends on context, but we have to understand that a frown could mean anything from ‘I’m annoyed’ to ‘My trousers are a bit too tight and they’re uncomfortable’ to ‘Someone said something unpleasant to me earlier and that is really annoying me’.

The best way to challenge this thought distortion is a simple statement; people don’t think of you nearly as much as you think they do. Most people spend a large part of their day thinking about themselves. I’m not saying people are self-centred, just that people are only directly responsible for themselves. That means, quite naturally, one is going to spend most of the time thinking about what they are going to do or how they feel, rather than any negative opinion they may have formed about you.

However, as with all things, what isn’t there can be just as important as what is. These next examples are called lost performatives. Let us say it’s dark, I’m taking a walk, I trip over and fall flat on my face. Getting up, I say to myself “I’m such an idiot, I can’t even walk in a straight line properly”. There’s a few problems with that.

Lack of reputable source

As the person making the statement ‘I’m such an idiot’, I have to immediately acknowledge that I’m not an expert on idiocy, or, for that matter, intelligence. I only have my own opinion of what makes a person smart of stupid, and that opinion could be profoundly incorrect.

This is something that a lot of TV pundits and social media commenters could really do with learning: An opinion is not a fact; it is an idea coloured by experience and perspective. If I encountered someone who had made a lifetime study of the different factors that qualify someone for idiocy, then they would be the ones who could call me an idiot with any degree of legitimacy. I hope they don’t. 

Lack of a specific metric

‘How much of an idiot are you’ is not an accurate metric. By definition, as I pointed out above, it’s very vague and subject to personal opinion. We don’t judge people on a scale of 1-to-idiot. The more specific metric here would be ‘level of intelligence’. But hang on a minute because…

Lack of clarity on what’s being judged

Since when has the ‘ability to walk in a straight line properly’ been a measure of intelligence? Again, the statement was too vague. The actual thing being judged wasn’t even intelligence in the first place; it was co-ordination, or ability to see in the dark, or even awareness of any obstacles in my path. So now we’ve focused a little more on what’s actually being said and how that statement does (or doesn’t) work, it comes apart quite easily.

It sounds ridiculous now. We can even laugh at it a little, but what’s important to remember is in this example, I started by having a horrible bit of self-talk “I’m such an idiot” floating around in my head. Uninterrogated, this is the sort of thing that can linger, get repeated, and result in someone hypnotising themselves into quite a negative state of mind. But by breaking it down, we manage to render it null and void. 

Moving forward with your inner monologue

So next time you catch your inner monologue saying unhelpful things, think about this:

  • Am I thinking in black and white? Am I making big generalising statements?
  • Do I think I know exactly what someone else is thinking/saying/doing?
  • Am I qualified to make this negative assumption/statement about myself/my situation?
  • How exactly am I judging this, and is this a reliable way to judge something?
  • What specifically is it that I’m judging?

The reality is, we’re all guilty of these thought errors sometimes. So my last piece of advice? Be kinder to yourselves. For more information, visit my profile.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Currie, Midlothian, EH14
Written by Lloyd Robinson, DSFH, HPD, BA (Hons)
Currie, Midlothian, EH14

Lloyd Robinson is a writer, motivational speaker, and clinical hypnotherapist working in South West Edinburgh. You can find more details about his practice at www.hypnotherapywithlloyd.co.uk

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