Thought Errors: Fortune Telling

Posted on 10/14/11 by erynwicker No Comments

From a recent series I wrote for the local paper The Chilliwack Progress on cognitive distortions.

Thought Errors: Fortune Telling

Last week Dr. Rob Lees provided us
with an overview to our summer series on Cognitive Distortions; this week’s
finds us exploring the first one in more detail: Fortune Telling.

Cognitive distortions, thought errors, or as I
often tell the kids I work with “sometimes when our feelings are too high our
thinking goes a little wonky and we say things to ourselves in our head or out
loud that might not be true”. But whichever way you say it, it’s the same
thing: Everything we think is an automatic thought because our minds seek to
narrate what is going on around us. Problems arise when these thoughts manifest as
cognitive distortions. Although based on deeply ingrained core beliefs they are
still our mind playing tricks on us that can distort our perspective and

The Fortune Telling Error is when we anticipate that things will turn out badly and
feel convinced that our prediction is an already-established fact. When we assume that we know what
will happen in the future, based upon little or no evidence, we’re fortune
telling. Sometimes we even try to predict an outcome when there’s evidence to
the contrary. Fortune Telling can take many forms,
sometimes it starts with a “What if” –  these
types of thoughts relate to feelings of somehow not being able to cope or
manage in the future.

So what do you do when you notice
yourself, a family member or your child fortune telling? First off we have to recognize it (the irrational reaction
and the stressful situation that led to it) and then we want to replace it (with a fair and realistic
and rational thought). A global replacement thought might be: “I don’t know what the future will bring but
I am managing right now
.” Anchors us in the present, and reminds us of the

This past week I kept track of the
Fortune Teller thought errors that came up during sessions with clients (beside
each one is the replacement thought my clients came up with).

What if I never get a boyfriend/girlfriend? I don’t want a
boyfriend/girlfriend right now and when I do I’ll think about it then.

I’ll never pass that test. If I haven’t taken the test yet how do I
know how I’ll do on it?

If I failed Math this year, I’ll probably fail it again next year. I found
Math tough this year but I’ve learned what I need to do to be successful at it
next year.

My mom is never going to listen to me. Sometimes it feels like she will never
listen but I have to give her a chance to change.

My son/daughter is always going to be this way. Worrying about their future and
predicting it is not the same thing.

There’s no way I’m ever going to get that job. I dropped off my resume,
I phoned back, I need to try hard in the interview and that’s all I can do.

Automatic thoughts, if left unchecked, may lead to concerns like anxiety
and/or depression. Fortune telling is often connected to anxiety, particularly anticipatory anxiety – worrying about
something that hasn’t happened yet, but might happen…in a second, or a minute,
or a day, or a month from now.

I encourage you to be on the lookout for thought errors in your own self-talk and
that of your children – wouldn’t it be nice to reduce your reactivity to the
stress in your life and help your children do the same. Notice it, reframe it, and
model it. Sometimes it’s easier to spot the cognitive distortions in other
peoples’ thinking but don’t let that deter you from challenging yourself to
truly listen to that internal (sometimes external) dialogue that we tell

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