Learn about how you think, with CBT– what’s your thinking style?

In cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) we talk a lot about how our thinking affects how we feel and then impacts what we do. Therefore understanding more about our thinking style is an important aspect of therapy. I’ve put together a list of thinking styles that are identified in CBT as being unhelpful. Do you recognise any?


A part of changing how you think is beginning to analyse how you think. Alter what’s unhelpful create more flexibility in your thinking and maximise your potential and wellbeing


Common Thinking Styles

Black and white thinking – This is sometimes referred to all or nothing thinking things are right or wrong, there’s no shades of grey in your thinking style.

Mental filter – Where you filter information to fit with your beliefs and only pay attention to certain types of evidence for example only noticing when you do things wrong or searching Google for information that fits with your fear.

Fortune telling – Assuming you know what others are thinking. Drawing conclusions based on hypothetical thinking that is not factual. ‘What if’ style thinking.

Over generalising – Drawing conclusions without the full facts or to be overly broad in the conclusions you make. For example thinking “I failed my last exam I will fail every exam I ever take”.

Catatrophising– Where you blow things out of all proportion, you jump from one thought straight to a catastrophe, for example “ I’m going to be late for work – I’ll lose my job and be homeless” or your partner is ten minutes late home from work so you have the thought “ they have died in a car accident”.

Self-critical – Having an internal dialogue with yourself that is harsh, disapproving or self-blaming. Talking to yourself in such a negative way you would not talk to other people in the same way.

Compare and despair – When there is something we don’t like about ourselves or that we would like to improve we often notice that thing in other people and it serves to deflate us and cause us despair, comparing never goes well.

Evaluations / Judgements – Making judgements about events, ourselves, others or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for. What are the facts.

Disqualifying the positives – If someone compliments us in any way we quickly turn to disqualify it or play it down. When we do this we are not maximising the opportunity to build our confidence and experience of positive emotions.

Preparing mentally for the worst – Never looking forward to things or toning down your excitement, never getting your hopes up so you’re not disappointed. This means you miss out on so much excitement and ask yourself does it really prepare you?

Should or must Thinking – Saying ‘I should’ (or shouldn’t) and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves, and sets up unrealistic expectations. Can you make this more flexible? What would be more realistic?

Emotional reasoning – Assuming that because we feel a certain way what we think must be true. Concluding that your emotional reaction proves something is true, regardless of the observed evidence. For example, even though a spouse has shown only devotion, a person using emotional reasoning might conclude, “I know my spouse is being unfaithful because I feel jealous.”

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.