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Addressing Thought Distortions Part 2: Fortune Telling, Black and White Thinking, and “Should” Statements

Mar 16, 2021

Thought distortions, also referred to as “thinking traps”, “cognitive distortions”, and “stinkin’ thinkin’”, are faulty ways of thinking that hold us back, cause us to experience negative emotions, and/or impact our self-esteem and overall confidence. There are many different forms of thought distortions which is why I am writing a series of blog article about them. You can check out Part #1 on the Live Your Best Boss Lady Life Blog HERE, which focuses on Filtering, Overgeneralizations, and Personalization. What is helpful is to understand them, to take the time to notice if your fall into any of these thinking patterns, and then to start to challenge them. If you do notice that you fall into some of these patterns, there is no shame. Most of us do at least some of the time, however, by reading this you will start to be able to recognize the problematic patterns and begin to shift them.


In this article, I will review three additional common thought distortions. Be sure to check out all my blog posts about Thought Distortions on the Live Your Best Boss Lady Life blog. I will offer you suggestions for managing each type of thought distortion so that they no longer hold you back, cause you to experience discomfort, or impact your self-esteem and confidence. I encourage you to take your time and really think about each thought distortion, whether you think you fall into any of them, and how you can apply my suggestions for overcoming them.  Use the worksheet, Overcoming Thought Distortions: Fortune Telling, Black and White Thinking and “Should” Statements, I created so that you can get the most out of these activities. You can get it HERE. The key is to challenge these thinking patterns, which will start to force your brain to consider alternatives that work for you, and not against you.


These thought distortions can apply to any area of your life including career, business, relationships, health and wellness, learning new skills, money, etc. If you have multiple thoughts distortions in multiple areas of your life, that is okay. Just go through the same process for each one.


Fortune Telling, Black and White Thinking, and “Should” Statements

  1. Fortune Telling. This thought distortion occurs when you predict a negative outcome without looking at the odds of that outcome actually occurring. You allow yourself to assume that the outcome will be negative without exploring the likelihood of this, and without exploring other, more favorable outcomes, that could occur. Statements like, “We will lose the game”, “Nobody will buy what I have to offer”, “I won’t get the promotion”, “I will never find true love”, or “I will never weigh what I want to” are all examples of Fortune Telling. The problem with this is that if you go into a situation assuming it will turn out badly, your actions will reflect this thinking, which will ultimately get you the result you are thinking will happen in the first place. This kind of thinking often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


How to overcome Fortune Telling. The first step is to notice if you do this. Do you tend to assume things will not work out in the way you hoped they would? Do you look for only the evidence that something will turn out badly for you? If so, you may be engaging in Fortune Telling. Once you identify that you may be doing this, challenge yourself to produce evidence that this negative result will likely happen. Challenge yourself to examine if there are benefits to your Fortune Telling. If you assume that things won’t work out as you had hoped, you won’t have to put in as much effort because you will tell yourself it won’t matter anyway. If you tell yourself that you will fail, you may not need to push yourself to do something that could be challenging or uncomfortable. Once you challenge this negative outcome, consider if there are other, more favorable outcomes that are possible. At a minimum, consider two possible, positive outcomes each time you consider a negative outcome. Over time, your brain will not automatically jump to the negative outcome only.

Example of Fortune Telling. If you are wanting to find true love and meet someone you are interested in, your Fortune Telling may kick in and you will tell yourself, “this will never work out for the long haul”. You have no evidence to support this, however, your brain may try to compare this situation to past relationship to give you evidence that this one won’t work out either. If you allow thoughts like this to go unchecked, you will likely end up with a relationship that will not work out. The reason is that you will go into this relationship not feeling confident, expecting it to end, and without allowing yourself to fully connect. If you show up to a relationship like this, it will make it more challenging and less likely to last. However, if you allow yourself to consider the best-case scenario and positive possibilities that could come out of this relationship, you will feel differently, act differently, and likely get a different result.


  1. Black and White Thinking. This type of thinking is also called “all-or nothing” thinking. With this type of thought distortion, you see things as all good or all bad, all right or all wrong, or you are all in, or all out on something. We use this type of thinking to label ourselves, others, and circumstances. If something happens in your life, you will see it as all positive or all negative. There is no room for anything in the middle. When you think like this, people in your life are all bad or all good. You are fully committed to something or not committed at all. What is important to remember, is that circumstances, people, and things that we are trying to do in our life do not need to be “either / or” …often times they can be “both”. If you lost your job, you could think only that it is devastating, or you could be upset and also consider if this is an opportunity to open up new doors. If you have someone in your life who did something you did not like or agree with, you could consider that they are someone you love and you don’t approve of that one thing they did.


How to overcome Black and White Thinking. As is the case with all thought distortions, the first step is to notice that this is happening. If you notice yourself going to extremes without considering a middle option, you may be engaging in Black and White Thinking. If you notice yourself doing this, challenge your brain to consider the “gray” area. Is there a “middle-ground” way of thinking about the situation? What if both extremes could potentially be true? What if how you feel about something could change over time. Take time to consider alternatives and see if they make you feel better.


Example of Black and White Thinking. You are really excited to start a new health regime in order to lose weight. You are highly motivated, and you have mapped out exactly what you will do. You do exactly what you wanted to do on Monday and go to bed feeling really proud of yourself. On Tuesday, you wake up late and don’t have enough time to do your full 30-minute workout or make your smoothie. You tell yourself, “I knew this would not last. I can’t do this. I am already failing”, and then you give up. That’s it…you stop. When you do this, you are telling yourself that if you cannot do something 100% perfectly, you can’t do it at all. In this circumstance, you want to challenge yourself by saying, “yesterday was great, today has been challenging, but what can I do anyway?”. Maybe your plan is to work out for 15-minutes, instead of 30. Maybe you take the time to reset so that you make sure you get up on time tomorrow. The point is that you allow yourself to see the middle ground and that it does not need to be all in or not at all.


  1. “Should Statements”. You experience this thought distortion when you find yourself telling yourself that you “should” or “must” act or feel a certain way. When you find yourself using these words, you are telling yourself that what you are doing or how you are acting is not right, or not enough. Telling yourself, “I should eat better”, “I should have more clients”, “I should save more money”, or “I should spend more time with my kids”, will never result in you feeling good. Talking to yourself like this can really take a toll on your self-esteem and create feelings of shame or guilt.


How to overcome “Should Statements”. When you notice yourself saying, “I should”, or “I ought to” or “I must”, challenge yourself. When you talk to yourself like that, it is very disempowering. It can lower your energy levels, your motivation, your confidence, and your desire to take any action to improve a particular situation. If there is something you are wanting to do that you are not currently doing, instead of saying, “I should…”, say, “I am going to…”. Say each statement out loud and see how each one makes you feel. When you say, “I am going to…” that should produce positive energy and feelings of determination that will result in action.


Example of “Should Statements”. You are working on building a business and know that you need to have more of an online presence. Every day you tell yourself, “I should do more for my business online.” How would you feel if you think like this? Likely you would feel disappointed, overwhelmed, frustrated, or some other feeling that can leave you stuck in a state of inaction. Instead, what if you said, “I am going to have more of a presence online with my business”? You would likely feel more energized and ready to take action to make that happen.


Be sure to check my first Thought Distortion article HERE and keep an eye out for future articles where I will dig into additional thought distortions. Understanding each of them and learning how to manage your mind when they come into play, can be life changing. It can result in you feeling much better and it can also change the outcomes you are getting in your life. Use this worksheet to help you go through each thought distortion in this article so that you get the most out of this information and see the best results in addressing any thought distortions you may be experiencing.

 Live your best boss lady life.

~ Karen

Karen Vincent Solutions

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