This article explains how jumping to conclusions can have a significantly negative impact on our relationships and what you can do about it. Relationships in this context include intimate relationships, friendships, co-workers, etc. Unhelpful emotions are preceded by unhelpful thoughts and self-talk. Unhelpful thinking styles are subconscious habits that we use; especially as a result of perceived negative events. In the following sections, you will learn about when these unhelpful thinking styles are most prevalent; as well as strategies to not only recognize when you fall into these negative thinking traps; but also to change those thoughts into more accurate and helpful thoughts that will ultimately make you feel better; thus giving you more motivation. Unhelpful thoughts are generally catastrophic, self-defeating, illogical, inaccurate, and rigid. Conversely, helpful thoughts are generally reasonable, self-enhancing, logical, accurate, and flexible.
We are all guilty when it comes to using this thinking error. We draw a conclusion without having any evidence or knowing if there is any evidence to support it. We often make decisions or behave according to our “gut” or off of a “hunch”. It can be uncomfortable challenging our thoughts because we always want to believe that our thoughts reflect reality; but that is not always the case.
There are two ways in which we jump to conclusions—predictive thinking and mind reading.
We fall into the trap of mind reading when we assume we know what someone else is thinking without having any evidence that supports our thoughts. For example, you are having a dinner party that you have had planned for 3 weeks. About one hour before guests are scheduled to arrive, you get a phone call from one of the couples who state that they are not going to be able to make it. Many people would jump to the conclusion that “they probably have something better to do” or “they think I am a boring person”. Another example is when deciding whether to go to relationship counseling or not. One might tell themselves “I’m not going to see a counselor. They will just think I’m crazy and blame me for everything wrong in our relationship”. As you can see, jumping to these conclusions without having any evidence that supports the claims can cause intense negative emotions and also can severely limit someone’s growth. That is, you unknowingly create unnecessary problems for yourself when the situation likely does not warrant it.
The other form of jumping to conclusions is ‘predictive thinking’. We can also get into trouble when we start trying to predict the future. That is, making predictions about what is going to happen in the future. Making predictions; especially negative predictions is a sure fire way to increase anxiety and stress. These are often predictions where you overestimate the negative emotions that will come from a future event. For instance, let’s say that you are going on a date with your spouse as a way to rekindle the relationship. One or both of you might start thinking “what’s the point? It’ll just right back to the way it was”. Going off of the earlier relationship counseling example, one might surmise that relationship counseling is just going to create more problems and bring more out that I don’t want to mess with”.
When the person called and said that they could not make it to your dinner party, you could’ve interpreted that in a few different ways; which would bring about two different sets of emotions. If you jumped to the conclusion that the person “has something better to do” or “they don’t like me…they think I am boring”. You can see how these two interpretations can evoke a myriad of negative emotions and can cause friction within the relationship; especially if you do not address it with your friend. In comparison, you might think “I hope everything is ok. I will call them tomorrow” or “maybe one of them got called into work”. This is not to say that your first assumption may be false; however, to be fair, if we are going to jump to the worst possible conclusion, we have to be at least open to a more positive outlook.
By recognizing that you are jumping to conclusions, you are being more mindful; which means you have more control over the thinking that causes negative emotions.
The following are examples of exploratory questions that can help you start recognizing when you engage in this style of thinking:
1. How do I tend to jump to quick conclusions?
2. In what specific situations do I jump to these sorts of conclusions?
3. What evidence and facts to I tend to often overlook?
4. Why do I tend to jump to conclusions? Do I gain some value from it?
How to be more mindful of my automatic thoughts
To move from unhelpful to helpful thoughts, one must challenge their negative automatic thoughts (NATs) by asking the following solutions-focused questions:
1. What is the evidence for what I thought?
2. What alternatives are there to what I thought?
3. What is the effect of thinking the way I do?
4. What thinking errors am I making?
If you or someone you know wants to improve the quality of their relationship, please visit www.healthfitcounseling.com for more information.