Thought Errors: Jumping to Conclusions

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: Jumping to Conclusions

I failed that math test – Well, there goes my
A. My child’s teacher wants to talk with me after school – What have they done
now? I’m new to this school – Everyone is going to dislike me. A colleague never
returned my call – They must not like or respect me. 
and teens have done it, as have parents and grandparents, teachers and coaches
– in fact, at some point in our lives we have all made the mistake of jumping
to conclusions about something. Yet one more thought error or cognitive
distortion where our mind puts a spin on the events we see, and attaches a
not-so-objective explanation of what we are experiencing.

Jumping to conclusions can be defined
as making a negative interpretation about something even though there are no
definite facts that convincingly support that conclusion. Rather than letting
the evidence bring us to a logical conclusion, we set our sights on a
conclusion (often negative), and then look for evidence to back it up, often ignoring
evidence to the contrary. It’s a close cousin to other thought errors we have
mentioned previously since conclusion-jumpers often fall
prey to mind reading (where they believe that they know the true intentions of
others without talking to them) and fortune telling (predicting how things will
turn out in the future and believing these predictions to be true).

So why do we jump to conclusions,
especially negative ones, so quickly? Well, we do a lot of things without an
iota of thought, like breathing and blinking, and sometimes we jump or leap to
conclusions in an attempt to make meaning of what we observe or experience –
because humans are meaning-making creatures. Problems arise though because we
tend to pick interpretations that fit our own existing view of the world, and
thus if jumping to conclusions becomes a chronic problem we can get stuck in
our own viewpoint, even when it doesn’t fit with reality.

However, we owe it to ourselves and
our kids and family members and colleagues to press the pause button before we
jump to conclusions, and think about other potential explanations besides the
one we automatically leapt to. Consider the following tips:

Focus on directly
observable and tangible facts and events as these anchor us to reality and keep
our subjectivity subdued

different possibilities and interpretations

unnecessary future predictions – you probably have enough going on in the
present without worrying about or trying to control the future

uncertainty and be content with not knowing what people are thinking or what
might happen

Ask questions of
others to help confirm or reject your interpretation

So, maybe that math test was harder or
you didn’t study as much. Or, maybe the teacher wants to ask you to volunteer
or thank you for raising such a clear thinking child. Perhaps the other kids
will think you are exciting and interesting because you are new. And perhaps
the phone was broken or your colleague was busy.


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