Your Frothy Filosofer has been less frothy of late, more like a cappuccino that’s been put to one side and forgotten. But stuff is still going on in the depths. I had an amazing trip to Tucson, my first (and hopefully not last) visit to the USA. So the journey and recovery time – not helped by a bout of coughing and sneezing – has meant less time for filosofising.
Today I want to get back on track with our journey through thinking errors, and we arrive at over-generalisation. This occurs when we make judgements based on single events. When we find ourselves using words like never, always, no-one and everyone, this should alert us to the possibility that we are becoming biased in our thinking. For example, how often do we find that the traffic lights are against us when we are in a hurry? “It’s always the same”. Clearly there are times when it is not the case, but our biased thinking prevents us from accessing memories of when the “rule” did not apply.
We can think of situations where we want help or advice from other people. Imagine you are looking for somewhere in a big city and you approach someone for help. The first person ignores you and the second person says they are in too much of a rush to help. You might conclude that “everyone” in this city is unfriendly and unhelpful, based on a sample of two. You might approach 50 people before you find someone who is helpful, but once you have this evidence it is no longer true to say that “everyone” is unhelpful. You might rephrase the conclusion as “Most people are unhelpful”. Herein lies the clue to challenging this particular cognitive bias – i.e. look for the exceptions.
If you have the belief that “Everything I do is wrong”, you need to find only one example of something not going wrong in order to change the belief – e.g., “A lot of what I do goes wrong, but there are times I get it right”. These slight shifts in belief can bring large shifts in our emotional reactions, and impact on our future behaviour. If we truly believe we are useless, we will engage in a lot of avoidance, and thereby never gain the experience to develop competencies.