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Team Intellect

Beware: 12 unhelpful thinking styles that may sabotage you at work

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

Have you ever felt like your mind is working against you, throwing negative thoughts your way at the worst possible moments? Whether it’s doubting your abilities before a big presentation or feeling certain that a friend is upset with you despite no clear evidence, these thoughts can be incredibly disruptive.

But here’s the good news: While we can’t always control the thoughts that pop into our heads, we can decide whether we let them dictate our actions.

This empowering insight comes from Dr. Aaron Beck, the father of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic approach that has proven effective in treating a range of mental health disorders.

Dr. Beck noticed that patients struggling with depression often found themselves consumed by thoughts that just didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Over time, he realised these thoughts followed specific, predictable patterns, which he called “cognitive distortions.”

What are cognitive distortions?

Think of cognitive distortions as unhelpful thinking styles. Often, they produce thoughts that stir up negative feelings, leading us down paths of sadness, worry, and self-doubt. For example, you may:

  • Think “I’m a total failure” after receiving a less-than-perfect grade on an exam.
  • Think you have a terminal illness after experiencing a minor health symptom.
  • Think that people don’t mean the compliments they give you and “are just being nice.”

Some of these thoughts may appear illogical when we write them down, but they can feel incredibly convincing, especially when we’re under pressure. As you would imagine, we are particularly vulnerable to these thoughts in the workplace, where stress levels can be high.

However, when we understand the tricks our brains tend to play on us, we can choose not to let these thoughts control our actions and shape our reality. To do this, we first need to familiarise ourselves with the 12 unhelpful thinking styles and acknowledge their impact on our self-perception, workplace relationships, and career progression.

12 unhelpful thinking styles

1. Overgeneralisation

What it is: Making sweeping conclusions based on a single event or piece of evidence


Self-perceptionAfter one presentation goes poorly, you think, “I always mess up important tasks.”
Workplace relationshipsWhen a team member overlooks your suggestion during a meeting, you think, “Nobody values my input.”
Career progressionAfter not receiving a promotion, you believe “I’ll never advance in this company.”

Pro-tip: Look out for absolute terms like “always”, “never”, “everyone”, or “no one” in your self-talk can help you spot overgeneralising statements.

2. Mental filters

What it is: Focusing exclusively on the negative aspects of a situation while discounting positive experiences


Self-perceptionDespite receiving positive feedback on a project, you fixate on one minor critique.
Workplace relationshipsWhen your colleague compliments you on your work, you think, “They’re just being polite.”
Career progressionYou assume a client is dissatisfied with your service because they expressed concerns about one aspect.

Pro-tip: Take a few minutes each day to write own three things you are grateful for, no matter how small, to shift your focus from negative to positive experiences

3. Jumping to conclusions

What it is: Making broad conclusions about situations and outcomes without sufficient evidence


Self-perceptionAfter hitting a minor setback, you conclude that a project you’re leading will fail.
Workplace relationshipsYou conclude that your team member is tardy because they were late without hearing their perspective.
Career progressionYou conclude that you will be fired because your manager requests a meeting without details.

Pro-tip: Gather evidence that supports and contradicts your conclusion to develop a more balanced and rational thinking pattern.

4. Mind reading

What it is: Assuming you know what others are thinking and feeling without any evidence.


Self-perceptionAssuming your manager is disappointed in your performance because they didn’t praise your recent project, without considering that they may have been busy or saving feedback for a formal review
Workplace relationshipsAssuming your colleague is jealous of your success because they didn’t congratulate you on a recent accomplishment, even though they may be unaware of the achievement
Career progressionAssuming that a potential mentor is uninterested because they haven’t responded to your request for guidance, without considering that they may be busy or prefer in-person interactions

Pro-tip: Consider alternative explanations for others’ behaviours and emotions, and put yourself in their shoes to better understand their point of view.

5. Predictive thinking

What it is: Anticipating negative outcomes without evidence


Self-perceptionPredicting that your ideas will be met with disapproval in a group setting, you perceive yourself as incompetent
Workplace relationshipsPredicting that your manager will micromanage your project, you become defensive and resistant to feedback
Career progressionPredicting that you won’t get a promotion, you don’t apply for it at all

Pro-tip: Test the validity of your predictions by taking small steps towards your goals or exposing yourself to the feared outcome.

6. Magnification

What it is: Exaggerating the importance of problems or shortcomings


Self-perceptionBelieving that you are socially inept after committing a minor faux pas during a meeting
Workplace relationshipsPerceiving differences in opinions with team members as a threat to camaraderie
Career progressionBelieving that one job rejection means you are unfit for your desired career path

Pro-tip: Put your problem into perspective by assigning it a proportion that reflects its true significance in the bigger picture.

For instance, although differing opinions might seem to threaten camaraderie, it’s essential to consider other factors such as shared goals and the ability to resolve conflicts constructively.

7. Emotional reasoning

What it is: Believing that your feelings reflect reality.


Self-perceptionBelieving that you are incompetent because you feel overwhelmed by your workload
Workplace relationshipsBelieving that your coworkers are trying to undermine you because you feel threatened by their feedback
Career progressionBelieving that feelings of discomfort associated with a promotion indicate a lack of readiness or suitability. (i.e. imposter syndrome)

Pro-tip: Recognising and naming your emotions (using the emotions wheel) can provide clarity about your feelings and separate them from objective reality.

8. “Should” and “must” statements

What it is: Setting rigid rules for yourself and others


Self-perceptionTelling yourself, “I must never make mistakes as a manager,” and feeling devastated when you do
Workplace relationshipsBelieving, “My team should always agree with me,” and feeling upset when they don’t
Career progressionThinking, “I should always be productive,” and feeling burnt out as a result

Pro-tip: Replace “should” and “must” statements with more flexible and realistic language.

For example, instead of saying, “I must never make mistakes as a manager,” you could say, “It would be preferable not to make mistakes, but it’s okay if I do, as it’s a part of learning and growth.”

9. Labelling

What it is: Attaching negative labels to oneself or others based on specific behaviours


Self-perceptionLabelling yourself a “crybaby” after tearing up at work
Workplace relationshipsLabelling yourself “socially awkward” and refraining from interacting with others as a result.
Career progressionLabelling yourself as “not leadership material” after making a mistake

Pro-tip: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or even colleagues for feedback to get a more balanced perspective on your strengths and areas for improvement.

10. Personalisation and blame

What it is: Blaming yourself for events outside your control or holding others responsible for your problems


Self-perceptionBlaming yourself for not receiving a raise, even though it was due to budget constraints
Workplace relationshipsBlaming your manager for your own lack of motivation
Career progressionBlaming external factors (e.g. office politics) for not receiving a promotion, you don’t seek feedback or upskill for advancement.

Pro-tip: Focus on aspects of the situation that you can influence, and use “I” statements to express your feelings and preferences in a respectful and constructive manner.

11. Catastrophising

What it is: Imagining the worst possible outcome in every situation


Self-perceptionBelieving that a minor error will result in losing your job.
Workplace relationshipsFearing that a peer’s promotion will disrupt established dynamics and resenting them for it.
Career progressionFeeling trapped in your current role after missing a promotion opportunity.

Pro-tip: Reflect on past instances where catastrophic thoughts didn’t align with reality and use these experiences as evidence to challenge catastrophic thoughts

12. Black and white thinking

What it is: Seeing situations in extreme, all-or-nothing terms.


Self-perceptionViewing your efforts as wasted because they weren’t recognised in your preferred way
Workplace relationshipsSeeing coworkers as either allies or enemies based on minor disagreements
Career progressionFeeling unmotivated to pursue advancement unless success is guaranteed

Pro-tip: Recognise shades of grey in situations to understand that reality is often more nuanced than your thinking suggests.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at Intellect Clinic

In putting our pro-tips into practice, Intellect’s app has got your back with an array of Learning Paths and Rescue Sessions. Our resources empower individuals to implement some of these strategies independently, putting the power of CBT techniques right at your fingertips.

But what about those deeper-rooted issues that seem to lurk beneath the surface? That’s where the expertise of a CBT-trained professional can be invaluable.

At Intellect Clinic, our counsellors, psychotherapists, and clinical psychologists will collaborate with you, delving into the origins of unhelpful thinking patterns and exploring how childhood experiences, past traumas, or societal pressures may have shaped them. They also facilitate thorough interventions, such as tailored behavioural experiments, to effectively counter them.

Learn more about Intellect Clinic here.

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