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5 Steps for Changing “Fortune Telling” Thought Distortions

Jul 20, 2022

When faced with uncertainty, does your brain play through all the “what ifs” of the situation, act like a fortune teller, and predict that the worst-case scenario will happen? If so, you are not alone. We are all wired for negativity bias. This means that without being intentional, our brains want to focus on what is actually happening that is negative, as well as what could potentially happen that is negative. This is why your brain will have you consider the worst-case scenario, even when there is little to no evidence that this outcome will occur.


Your brain thinks that if it has you consider and anticipate the worst that could happen in a particular situation that it is protecting you. It thinks that by having you focus on all the negative outcomes, you can protect yourself from having them happen, and / or avoid being disappointed if they do happen. Unless there is significant evidence that something really bad could happen, this is not a good use of your mental energy because it results in you experiencing negative emotions based on something that has not happened. When doing this, many people find themselves distracted throughout the day, unable to experience good things in the present moment, or unable to sleep because they are worried about a “what if” in the future. When this way of thinking occurs regularly, it can hold you back from taking action in situations where there is an uncertain outcome, which could result in you missing out on many things in your life.


“Fortune Telling” is a thought distortion, or cognitive distortion, that occurs when you predict a negative outcome without looking at the odds of that outcome actually occurring. Fortune Telling can also result in you predicting you will feel a certain way in a situation without actually knowing how you will feel. Have you ever been really worried, nervous, or anxious about something and then when it happens, you say to yourself, “that was not that bad”? In situations like this, your “fortune teller” brain predicts something negative will happen, which results in you unnecessarily experiencing negative emotions about something that has not yet happened. If you allow fortune telling to happen on a regular basis, you will experience sadness, fear, worry, nervousness, or anxiety about things that are not actually occurring in your life, but which you think might occur at some point in the future.


The good news is that there are some specific strategies you can use to reduce, or even eliminate, fortune telling thought patterns. Below are 5 strategies you can start implementing right away.


5 Strategies for reducing fortune telling thought distortions.


  • Notice your “fortune telling” thoughts. When you notice yourself anticipating a worst-case scenario outcome or a negative outcome in a situation, write it down.


  • Notice how you feel. Write down how you feel when you think about the negative outcome you are predicting will happen. Are these the kind of emotions you want to be experiencing?


  • Challenge your thoughts about the negative outcome. Are they 100% true? If you asked 10 people you know if they agreed with the outcome you are “fortune telling” or predicting, would they agree? If your best friend was in the same situation, would you agree that the outcome you are predicting for yourself would be the only option for them as well?


  • What are two, better alternative outcomes or ways the situation could play out? If you are going to consider the worst-case scenario, also consider what the best-case scenario could be and make your fortune-telling mind work for you, instead of against you.


  • Talk to a coach or therapist. If you are struggling with this, know that it is something that can be changed, and it does not necessarily take a long time. Know that it is okay to get support and reach out to a professional, so that you can get strategies very specific to your situation and get results faster.


We all experience thought distortions, or cognitive distortions, from time to time, however, when they start to become your default pattern of thinking, they can be destructive. They result in unnecessary negative emotions, they impact decisions you make in your life, and they can hold you back from living the life you desire because you are walking around with fear, worry, stress, or anxiety. If you are interested in learning about 5 additional thought distortions, you can grab my free guide, 5 Common Thought Distortions, HERE. In this guide I cover 5 common thought distortions including Filtering, Overgeneralizations, Black and White Thinking, Catastrophizing, and Mind Reading. I walk you through how your brain works, why these thought distortions occur, and specific strategies you can use for each to change them.  You can grab it HERE.

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