Overcoming Cognitive Biases: 5 Common Thinking Mistakes to Avoid

Critical Thinking Blog - 5 Common Thinking Mistakes to Avoid

Are you your own worst enemy when it comes to decision-making and thought processes?

Many of us fall into mental traps that lead to poor decisions and detrimental outcomes. Identifying and avoiding these common thinking mistakes can significantly enhance your personal and professional life.

Avoid These Common Thinking Mistakes:

Mistaking Frequency for Importance

According to TLEX Mind Matters, an organization specializing in mind-body training and renowned for its research in cognitive biases, the average person experiences between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts daily. Often fleeting and repetitive, these thoughts fire in rapid succession, but their frequency does not necessarily denote importance.

Research indicates that up to 90% of our daily thoughts are repetitive, and recognizing this can help you avoid giving undue weight to recurrent, unimportant thoughts.

Exercise: Daily Thought Filtering

At the end of each day, jot down the most recurrent thoughts you had throughout the day. For each thought, ask yourself: "Did this thought serve a practical purpose?" and "How did this thought affect my mood and decisions?"
This exercise can help you identify patterns in your thinking and improve your decision-making skills.

Assuming Your Thoughts Are Correct

With thousands of thoughts clouding your mind daily, it's challenging to discern which ones hold truth. Most spontaneous thoughts tend to be negative—products of primal survival instincts running 'what-if' scenarios rarely based on reality. It's crucial to evaluate your thoughts critically and not accept them as truths merely because they recur. This critical evaluation gives you a sense of control over your mental processes.

Exercise: Reality Check

Whenever you catch yourself making assumptions based on your internal dialogue, pause and ask yourself three questions: "What evidence do I have that this thought is true?" "Can I find examples where this wasn't the case?" and "What might be a more balanced view of this situation?"
This practice encourages critical thinking and reduces the likelihood of accepting distortions as facts.

Assuming Your Thoughts Should Be Acted Upon

Since many of our thoughts are repetitive and negative, acting on each could lead us astray. Contrary to some beliefs, not all thoughts warrant attention or action. Learning to distinguish between thoughts that require action and those that can be dismissed can bring a sense of relief, reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Exercise: Thought Action Assessment

Create a two-column table. In the first column, write down thoughts that frequently urge you to act. In the second column, assess the necessity and outcomes of these actions: "Is action necessary?" and "What would happen if I ignored this thought?" This helps in understanding that not all thoughts, especially impulsive or habitual ones, need to be acted upon.

Negative Mind Reading

This cognitive bias involves assuming others have negative thoughts or intentions towards you without substantial evidence. For instance, if a friend doesn't respond to a text immediately, it doesn't necessarily mean they are upset with you. Avoid making assumptions about others' thoughts—communication is key to understanding their true intentions.

Exercise: Evidence-Based Thinking

When you find yourself assuming negative thoughts from others, stop and list all possible reasons for their behaviour that do not involve negative thoughts about you. 

This shifts your focus from self-centric interpretations to more objective and varied explanations, reducing unnecessary personal distress.


This thinking error involves anticipating the worst possible outcome in any given situation. Instead of letting your mind default to catastrophic predictions, focus on more probable outcomes and maintain a logical perspective. This approach helps in managing anxiety and fosters more realistic expectations.

Exercise: Worst Case, Best Case, Likely Case

When you catch yourself imagining the worst possible outcome, take a moment to write down the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario, and the most likely scenario. 

This exercise helps put things into perspective and often shows that the most likely outcome is far less dire than feared.

Recognizing and correcting these five common thinking mistakes is not just about avoiding pitfalls; it's about empowering yourself to improve your cognitive processes, make better decisions, and lead a more productive and less stressful life. Awareness is the first step toward change, and with practice, you can train your brain to sidestep these mental traps and think more clearly and effectively.


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