10 Cognitive Errors Blocking Your Success

Negative thinking is guaranteed to stop you from being as successful as you could be, particularly when it’s directed towards yourself. If you convince yourself that your goals are unobtainable before you start, then you probably never will start!

There are many reasons why people do this to themselves and a few years ago I read what is probably the best book ever written on the subject. It’s a book that has helped thousands of people overcome their self-imposed limitations.  In ‘Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy’, (affiliate link) eminent psychiatrist David D Burns MD identifies ten cognitive errors which people commonly fall into, and which can lead to anxiety, guilt and procrastination.

1 All Or Nothing Thinking

“You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.” David Burns.

This is a common way of thinking, particularly in workaholics and high achievers and can lead to the feeling that nothing you do will ever be good enough.

2 Overgeneralisation

“You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.” David Burns.

It’s this type of thinking that leads you to believe that one rejection means you’ll always be single, or that you’ll never ever get a promotion.

3 Mental Filter

“You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened.” David Burns.

This can cause you to feel that, for example, the world is a terrible place because of the actions of a small minority, or that because your boss is sarcastic sometimes then your job is completely unbearable.

4 Disqualifying the Positive

“You reject positive experiences by insisting they ‘don’t count’ for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.” David Burns.

It’s this type of thinking that causes you to dismiss compliments rather than accepting them as your due. Next time someone compliments your performance, just thank them. Don’t be tempted to add “anyone could have done it”.

5 Jumping to Conclusions

“You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.” David Burns.

This cognitive error can take two forms:

A. Mind Reading

“You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.” David Burns.

How many of us have been guilty of this? You assume that someone doesn’t like you, or is giving you the cold shoulder, only to find out later that you were mistaken!

B. The Fortune Teller Error

“You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is already an established fact.” David Burns.

This could lead to your believing, for example, that your friend forgot your birthday because they don’t care much about you, rather than the fact they they were simply preoccupied.

6 Magnification (Catastrophising) Or Minimisation

“You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections).” David Burns.

We’ve probably all been guilty of this from time to time. You’re convinced that everyone is horrified at an error you’ve made, that may not even have been noticed by anyone but you.

7 Emotional Reasoning

“You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: ‘I feel it therefore it must be true.'” David Burns.
You feel upset so you’re convinced that the situation is an upsetting one. You feel offended so you assume that someone has been offensive towards you. However, this may not necessarily be the case.

8 Should Statements

“You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. ‘Musts’ and ‘oughts’ are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt.” David Burns.

You immediately place enormous pressure on yourself when you feel that you should do something and this sets up a resistance within yourself, which can lead to procrastination.

9 Labelling and Mislabelling

“This is an extreme form of overgeneralisation. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. When someone else’s behaviour rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him.” David Burns.

This type of thinking is why you may see yourself as a failure, or a loser. It can also lead you to believe that other people are ‘obnoxious idiots’ or ‘insensitive bigots’ based on a sample of their behaviour.

10 Personalisation

“You see yourself as the cause for some negative external event which in fact you were not responsible for.” David Burns.

A child who sees himself as responsible for his parent’s divorce would be a good example of this type of distorted thinking, or a salesman who blames himself for not getting a sale, despite the fact that his product is just not what the customer wants.

Start Feeling Good

You will never be as successful as you could be, as happy as it’s possible to be, or achieve your full potential, whilst you’re engaged in negative patterns of thinking. You deserve to be confident, secure, positive and successful. If you find yourself making the cognitive errors in thinking described by David Burns, then by correcting them, you could change your thinking virtually overnight!

What could you achieve if you stopped sabotaging yourself? What could you achieve if you stopped holding yourself back? I believe that everyone on this planet should read ‘Feeling Good’ (affiliate link). Even if you are already confident and motivated you could benefit from David’s positive methods for making you feel good. It could be vital to your success!

Author: Lynne Mashhadi

Lynne Mashhadi is co-Founder of the Inspiration Zone. She is also a Partner in Design Inspiration and the Founder of Clutter.co.uk. Lynne is an experienced writer and content curator. She is known as The Clutter Expert by many people and as a talented freelance writer by others. She is a businesswoman and mother of 3 children who wouldn't like to be called children any more.

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