How to Think More Effectively

Man looking up at clouds

We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.

Gabór Maté

Ineffective thinking can be defined as thinking that is inaccurate, unhelpful, or unrealistic, which can include being too positive. Ineffective thinking can lead to negative emotions, poor decision-making, low self-worth, and problems in relationships.

There are many types of ineffective thinking, but some of the most common include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: This is when you see things in black and white, with no shades of gray. For example, you might think that you’re either a complete success or a complete failure, with no room in between.
  • Overgeneralization: This is when you make broad conclusions based on a single event or piece of evidence. For example, you might have a bad day at work and then conclude that you’re bad at your job.
  • Mental filtering: This is when you focus on the negative aspects of a situation and ignore the positive. For example, you might have a good presentation at work, but you focus only on the one mistake you made. This could include positive thinking, too. You might only see the positive, dismissing a fact or situation that needs more critical thinking; such as ignoring the signs of alcoholism in your partner because that idea is too painful to address.
  • Disqualifying the positive: This is when you downplay or dismiss your accomplishments. For example, you might get a promotion at work and then convince yourself that you only got it because of luck.
  • Jumping to conclusions: This is when you make assumptions about a situation without having all the facts. For example, you might see your partner talking to an ex and then assume that they’re cheating on you.

I don’t recommend “positive thinking” as a remedy for ineffective thinking. Being too optimistic or too positive can be as ineffective as being pessimistic or negative. Toxic positivity can invalidate your own experience, and the thoughts, feelings, situations of those around you. If you find yourself engaging in ineffective thinking, there are a few things you can do to challenge it:

  1. Identify your thinking patterns. The first step to challenging ineffective thinking is to be aware of it. Pay attention to your thoughts and try to identify any patterns. Once you know what your typical thinking patterns are, you can start to challenge them.
  2. Ask yourself questions. When you have a negative thought, ask yourself if it’s really true. Is there any evidence to support it? Is there another way to look at the situation? For example, if you think “I’m going to fail this test,” ask yourself if you’ve studied hard and if you’re prepared, or have you asked for accommodations if needed? If you have, then it’s more likely that you’ll do well.
  3. Reframe your thoughts. Once you’ve challenged your negative thoughts, try to reframe them in a more factual light. For example, instead of thinking “I’m not good enough,” think “I’m still learning and growing.” Or, turn “I’m an idiot,” into “I would have preferred not to make that mistake.” 
  4. Be patient. It takes time and practice to change your thinking patterns. Don’t get discouraged if you slip up from time to time. Just keep practicing and you’ll eventually see results.

If you’re struggling to challenge ineffective thinking on your own, call me. I help people learn how to tolerate their imperfections – and think more clearly and in alliance with their goals, values, and self-worth. You’ll learn how to challenge your thinking, and you’ll learn new language to use with yourself and others that is less reactive and judgmental.

Challenging ineffective thinking takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. When you’re able to think more realistically and positively, you’ll experience less stress, anxiety, and depression. You’ll also make better decisions and have more satisfying relationships. 

Hi, I'm Sharla! I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, and I help individuals navigate the complex emotions and struggles that life often brings. Learn more about about my background and experience here.

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