The Different Types of Unhelpful Thinking Habits

Unhelpful thinking habits create the thoughts in your mind that can lead to negative feelings and patterns. They are also known as cognitive distortions and will reinforce negative emotions. Over the course of our lives, we may gain these unhelpful thinking habits. There are different types of distortions and you may use some more than others. Once, you’ve identified these unhelpful thinking habits, you can start to notice them as they usually occur either before or during a distressing situation. Once you can identify them, you can challenge these thoughts and plan an alternative response to them and see the situation in a more helpful way. 


Mental Filter

This is when we notice only specifically what the filter allows us to notice. It dismisses anything that doesn’t ‘fit’. It is like having the opposite of rose-tinted goggles (or having ‘shit-tinted goggles’).. For example, if you go to a party, wearing a new dress, you only notice the people who look like they hate the dress, not the ten other people who complimented your new dress.


This is when you make judgements or evaluations about events, yourself, others or the world, rather than describing what you actually see and have evidence for. For example, you think all dogs are crazy, even if a chilled, laidback pug puppy is sat next to you, you may still see it as a crazy animal.


This is when you assume you know what other people are thinking (usually about yourself). For example, you think your friends are annoyed at you when you hang out with them.

Magnification & Minimisation

This is exaggerating or minimising the situation. For example, you might minimise your own achievements (minimisation) or think your mistakes are world- ending (magnification).


This is when you jump to the worst possible conclusion. For example, when you make a mistake at work, you assume you are going to get fired.

Emotional Reasoning

This is when you have an emotional reaction to something and it thereby, defines your reality. For example, you start to feel anxious so you think you are in danger. Or you start to feel guilty so assume you’ve done something wrong.


This is when you believe you know what’s going to happen in the future. For example, you think that your partner is going to end up breaking up with you or you think that you won’t be able to cope next week with a task.

Compare and Despair

This is when you see the positive aspects in other people and you get upset when you compare yourself. For example, Instagram influencers who wear designer clothes, go on luxury holidays and look flawless which may make you feel inadequate.

Black and White Thinking

Believing that a situation or person can be either one thing or another, rather than anything in-between. For example, you think a person can only be good or bad. Or you need to do something perfectly, or not at all.

Critical Self

This is self-criticism and putting yourself down in situations that are not completely your responsibility. For example, your team at work doesn’t meet their target and you blame yourself and think it’s your fault.

Should and Must

This is saying or thinking ‘I should/shoudn’t’ and ’I must/musn’t’ and placing pressure on yourself. For example, thinking you must do everything you can to keep people happy. Or you must say yes to people.


This is when present situations and events trigger upsetting memories, which may lead you to believe that the danger is here and now, rather than in the past.

Which negative thinking habits do you think you have? How can you challenge these thoughts and find an alternative way to respond to them?

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