Depression and anxiety can be debilitating for anyone who suffers from these two illnesses. Depression robs a person of joy and excitement. While anxiety robs a person of courage and hope. These two monsters work hand in hand with one another. Anxiety often leads to depression, and depression leads to despair. While there are many causes to these illnesses – such as low dopamine and serotonin levels – there is often a root cause to the problem. One of the primary causes of these disorders are thinking errors.

What exactly are thinking errors. Thinking errors are automatic thoughts that we have when we encounter everyday situations. For instance, I have to go to the grocery store, but I am dressed in my sweats and a dirty t-shirt (of course who hasn’t seen this going to Walmart :)?). When I walk into the store, I might think, Oh no, I look horrible. Everyone is looking at me. They must think I am a loser because I am dressed like this. This thinking error is one of magnification/minimization. It’s an error of thinking in which you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation. You then unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. In this case, I magnified the the fact the I look bad. Therefore, I made a false judgement about myself and labeled myself as a loser because of the way I was dressed.

If we are not careful in recognizing these thinking errors, we often fall further and further down the rabbit holes of depression and anxiety. Moreover, to fights these demons, we need to identify what these thinking errors are.

12 Common Thinking Errors

1.  All-or-nothing thinking (also called black-and-white, polarized, or dichotomous thinking): You view a situation in only two categories instead of on a continuum. Example: “If I’m not a total success, I’m a failure.”

2. Catastrophizing (also called fortune telling): You predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes. Example: “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all.”

3. Disqualifying or discounting the positive: You unreasonably tell yourself that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count. Example: “I did that project well, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent; I just got lucky.”

4. Emotional reasoning: You think something must be true because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary. Example: “I know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like I’m a failure.”

5. Labeling: You put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonably lead to a less disastrous conclusion. Example: “I’m a loser. He’s no good.”

6. Magnification/minimization: When you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. Example: “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am. Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”

7. Mental filter (also called selective abstraction): You pay undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture. Example: “Because I got one low rating on my evaluation [which also contained several high ratings] it means I’m doing a lousy job.”

8. Mind reading: You believe you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other, more likely possibilities. Example: “He’s thinking that I don’t know the first thing about this project.”

9. Overgeneralization: You make a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation. Example: “[Because] I felt uncomfortable at the meeting] I don’t have what it takes to make friends.”

10. Personalization: You believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior. Example: “The repairman was curt to me because I did something wrong.”

11. “Should” and “must” statements (also called imperatives): You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met. Example: “It’s terrible that I made a mistake. I should always do my best.”

12. Tunnel vision: You only see the negative aspects of a situation. Example: “My son’s teacher can’t do anything right. He’s critical and insensitive and lousy at teaching.”

In sum, it is important to recognize these thinking errors when your automatic thoughts start processing. The best way to curtail these thoughts is to first identify the thinking error and then replace it with a true, correct thought. Granted, this is not a cure for depression and anxiety, but knowing these errors will help individuals who are suffering from these disorders better cope with their feelings and levels of frustration.


The 12 Most Common Thinking Mistakes. (n.d.). . Retrieved May 27, 2014, from

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