Unhelpful Thinking Habits

All of us get stressed, and usually at these times our own minds are our worst enemies. We all have a habit of being negative about ourselves, putting ourselves down and being generally hard on ourselves more than on the people that surround us.

This is what we call unhelpful thinking processes, and once we can recognise these as unhelpful we can start countering them with more helpful ways of thinking.

Mental Filter

Only noticing the negatives, letting the filter get rid of any positives.

Sometimes our minds have a habit of noticing only the negatives, and act like a filter – bypassing the positives that are going on around us. As humans, negatives are always going to be more clear to see than positives.

However, we can counter this. A useful way of doing so is to have a definitive list in our heads of the positive things we have done, or positive attributes of ourselves. Whenever you have a negative thought about yourself or a situation, clear it from your mind and go back to that list – focus on the positives.

Mind Reading

Assuming we already know what other people are thinking.

Especially during stressful situations, our minds tend to wander and guess what other people are thinking about you or the situation. The reality is – none of us are mind readers.

All of us seem to care a lot about how other people are perceiving us, but no one knows us like we know ourselves. Whenever you think like this you must remember that everyone is feeling the same in situations, and they may be guessing what you are thinking too – and the likelihood is they and you are wrong!

Fortune Teller

Believing we know what will happen in the future.

Our minds tend to focus on the negatives, as we know from our mental filter process. Therefore, we will always assume that once something negative has happened once – it will happen again.

But this is something that none of us know for sure – we can’t know for a fact that this will happen again. A lot of people will avoid situations that may result in a negative outcome, and end up missing out on things that could have a positive impact in our lives. Next time your mind thinks it knows what will happen in the future, try and make yourself prove it wrong. Go and put yourself in the situation that your mind is trying to avoid – and once nothing negative happens you will have factual evidence for next time that negatives are not definite.

Compare and Despair

Seeing only good aspects of others and comparing ourselves negatively against them.

This thought process is a very common one for most people, and can be detrimental to our self belief and confidence.

However – the fact that the majority of people are guilty of this thought process makes it one of the easiest to overcome. Whenever you compare yourself to someone else, be it a friend, family member or complete stranger – just remember they are probably doing the same about you. Focus on your positives, and these are probably the things they are comparing themselves against as you think about it.


Blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not totally our responsibility.

We’re all guilty of it – thinking everything is our fault, blaming ourselves for every negative that has happened around us.

“What did I do wrong?”
“Could I have stopped it?”

The answers – Nothing, and no. 9/10 times you couldn’t have changed what has happened, and it wasn’t your fault in the first place. This is extremely common in times of tragedy – bereavement causes us to blame ourselves for situations that are entirely out of our control.

However it is common in day to day life too – especially in people with high levels of anxiety. Working environments are a common place for this type of thought, when something small goes wrong which may have nothing to do with you – but we still blame ourselves.

The simplicity of this thought process is that it probably isn;t your fault – and even if it is – just move on. Nothing is personal and not everything can be your fault. Think of something that you have done well recently – and replace the blaming thought with this. Remembering the positives is key here.

Shoulds and Musts

Thinking we ‘should’ and ‘must’ do things.

This is a classic case of putting too much pressure on ourselves and setting unrealistic expectations.

The key to overcoming this unhelpful thinking process is to write a to-do list every day, and learn to prioritise. What is most important. Do you HAVE to do that? Can you delegate tasks to someone else if you don’t have enough time? Remember – the more things you put on your own shoulders – the less likely you are to get those tasks right. Not everything is your responsibility – so search for the most important things and do those to the best of your ability.


Imagining and believing the worst possible thing will happen.

Most common in people with anxiety, this thought process can be extremely stressful, especially in anxiety producing situations.

The reality is – the worst thing that could happen is highly doubtful. In our minds we tend to forget to focus on the facts, and we focus on the fiction that our head is telling us. Remember to stop and think when you are catastrophising – how likely is it? What is more likely?

Emotional Reasoning

Feeling anxious, so believing you are in danger.

Emotional reasoning occurs when we pay too much attention to our thoughts and fears.

“I feel bad so it must be bad.”

Going back to the Fortune Teller process – our mind does not know what will happen in the future. Therefore we cannot determine what will happen in the future based on our own emotions. So next time you feel scared, so presume something scary will happen – think back to the last time you felt scared/stressed/angry/sad. Did any of those feelings turn into a real situation? The answer is most likely no – so remember this and move forwards.

Mountains and Molehills

Exaggerating the risk of negatives and forgetting the positives.

As you can see – there is a common theme in these thought processes. Our minds have a habit of taking over with negative thoughts, and forgetting any positives.

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

We’ve all heard it at some point in our lives – and the saying is a sensible one. Most of the things that we exaggerate are small, and other people may not even notice them. However our minds magnify them. Next time you have a negative thought, or something negative happens, try to pick it apart. What impact will it have on your future? Will you be thinking about that mistake tomorrow? Probably not.


Current situations conjuring distressing memories.

This happens to the majority of people that have experienced negative times in their lives. As we have said before, our minds focus on the negatives and forget the positives – meaning that certain places, scents, people or sounds can rustle up memories that will make us sad or scared, leading us to believe that the danger is here and now rather than in the past.

This is probably the hardest unhelpful thought process to conquer, as memories are not something that subside. However, the best advice we can give you is to face these places, face your fears. Once you go to that situation again and realise that the danger is no longer present – next time the memory rears it’s head you can focus on the time that nothing bad happened there. Depending on the situation this can take time, and may cause initial distress. But remember – the memory is in the past now, and it’s up to you to prove to yourself that it’s there.

We hope these thought process make it a little easier to understand what is going on inside your mind – and make you realise that you are not alone! The majority of people will think this way at some point in their lives, and there are ways to move forward and challenge your thoughts.