Error. Cannot Read: Common Thinking Errors


by Andrew Yeaton

Everyone knows the feeling of needing to open a file on your computer and receiving the daunting “error” message. Now I don’t know much about computers but I do know that when this happens I usually have to find an alternative way to open the file I need. Although this can be frustrating at first, it is kind of nice to receive a message that immediately notifies me that there is a problem. At least I don’t waste time trying the same thing over and over… then restarting my computer and trying it over again.

Unfortunately, our brains don’t come with this same warning system and we commonly find ourselves repeating the same error without notification. These thinking errors are commonly referred to as “cognitive distortions”. No matter who you are, we have all fallen into one of these errors at some point or another. Cognitive distortions are simply irrationally thoughts that can influence our feelings and behaviors. If we do not learn to install our own “error message” system, these common distortions can become very unhelpful. Here are a few examples of common thinking errors, or cognitive distortions…



– Jumping to the worst possible outcome when you receive new information.


Mind Reading

– Interpreting another’s thoughts or behaviors without having adequate information to do so. “She must be mad at me this morning because she did not say hello when she walked by my desk.”



– Taking an isolated event and extrapolating it to all other circumstances. “I did not have an answer to my bosses questions so I must be doing a poor job at work.”


All-or-nothing thinking

– Using absolutes where you do not have proper evidence to support them. “I always look dumb at work”, or “I will never be happy.”



– Taking responsibility for external events. “My boss is usually short with me, so I must have done something to upset him.”
These are just a few common thinking errors and, if we are not careful, they are easy to fall into. A great way to build in your own personal warning system is to know what errors you most commonly make and then begin to correct your thinking when they pop up. Practice taking one of your thinking errors and trying to correct it. The more often you catch your error as it pops up, the sooner your brain will learn to correct itself.