We spend a lot of time thinking—about work, about our families and our other interests. But how much time do we spend thinking about our thinking? We treat our minds pretty much as we treat our cars—we expect to jump into them in the morning, start them first time and use them all day. Recently, I was driving my car when it spluttered a little. I hoped it was just some low-grade fuel—until a message flashed up on the dashboard: ‘Go to workshop’.

While waiting for a taxi from the garage I started pondering. If my thinking processes were slightly out of tune, how would I know? I would assume my mind was functioning normally, when in fact it was distorting my perception of reality. If my perception is distorted, my ability to smoothly navigate that reality will almost certainly be negatively affected. Here are some signs of unbalanced thinking that are recognised in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

1. Absolutism

Also known as ‘black and white thinking’, absolutism is the inability to see anything other than extremes. There is no middle ground here, no shades of grey. In every situation there are only two options and they are polar opposites of each other. In logical terms, this is ‘or’ thinking—‘this or that’. ‘And’ thinking—‘this and that’ does not exist. This kind of thinking is epitomised by President George W. Bush’s famous assertion, “You’re either with us or against us.”

2. Labelling

Labelling is an extension of absolutism. Once a person or situation has been classed as black or white, that person or situation gets labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This is shorthand for ‘entirely good’ or ‘entirely bad’. Once again, there is no middle ground—which, in all likelihood, is a more accurate reflection of the situation.

3. Catastrophising

Catastrophising is the habit of encountering a minor issue and seeing a colossal, tragic, end-of-the-line behemoth of an issue. This kind of thinking is reflected in the common phrase, “making molehills into mountains.”

4. Fortune telling

This is the habit of being absolutely dead-set-certain what is going to happen in the future, based on past disappointments. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy—not because a situation was doomed to pan out in a certain way but because the person doing the fortune-telling secretly wants the situation to end negatively to prove themselves right and be able to say, “I told you so.”

5. Mind reading

Mind reading is a version of fortune telling where a person believes they know what another person is thinking. Again, this is rooted in an unhealthy attachment to the past that increases the likelihood that past disappointments will repeat.

6. Closed-mindedness

Closed-mindedness involves the rejection of any evidence contrary to a person’s beliefs. In this situation the truth is irrelevant and a person desperately clings to an existing, often negative worldview through a blinkered refusal to consider the actual facts.

We probably all suffer from these traits from time to time. The question is how often, and to what extent? Part II of this post will examine another six signs of unbalanced thinking.

Image: Falling down – feeling low by Maria Eklind on Flickr. Cropped to 16:9.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.