Examining Internal Dialogues and Common Judgment Errors

In a previous article, I mentioned that we can intervene in three directions when it comes to stress (at the source of stress, in our thoughts, and in our body). Today, let’s turn our attention inward to:

  1. How we think,
  2. How we interpret what happens to us,
  3. How we talk about what happens to us, and
  4. The impact this has on the level of stress we experience.

We often have a continuous inner discourse, a talk that is often unruly and quite repetitive. We become aware of this discourse only to the extent that we make an effort to listen to it. When we are not aware of this discourse, we operate on autopilot, prone to many errors.

The beliefs we repeat to ourselves, the tone, and the words we use determine our emotional and behavioral reactions, as well as our worldview and outlook on life. They act as lenses through which we see the world. They are not the truth; they are simply the glasses we wear for one reason or another. Depending on the glasses we wear, we are better or worse prepared to cope with stress.

Here are five examples of common judgment errors or interpretations of reality. For each of them, you’ll find an exercise to help you reposition yourself.

5 Common Judgment Errors:

  1. Black and White Thinking or Perfectionism:
    • Situation: Think of a situation where you tend to think in black and white. Write down the extreme thoughts and beliefs you have about that situation.
    • Exercise: Counter-argue those beliefs and judgments with moderate judgments and beliefs. Come up with at least three moderate interpretations of the situation.
    • Reflection: Consider how these moderate interpretations make you feel and how you would behave if you thought and felt that way.
  2. Catastrophizing:
    • Situation: Identify a situation where you tend to catastrophize. Write down the worst-case scenario you fear and the best-case scenario or a middle-ground scenario.
    • Exercise: Compare your emotional reaction to each of these scenarios. Evaluate the probability of each of the two or three scenarios.
  3. Mind Reading:
    • Situation: Choose an interaction with a person about whom you assume you know what they think or feel about you.
    • Exercise: This time, openly discuss and ask for feedback. Ask directly, “What do you think/feel about me now when I do this?” If you believe you know what the other person feels or thinks, verify by asking, “Do you feel or think X? But how do you really feel/what do you think?”
    • Reflection: Compare what you assumed with what you discovered and reflect on how effective you are at reading minds.
  4. Must Statements:
    • Situation: Identify a statement that starts with “must” and that you often use. For example, “I must always do things perfectly” or “I must never make a mistake.”
    • Exercise: Rewrite the statement replacing “must” with “could” or “would like to.” Reflect on the impact this language change has on your feelings of pressure and guilt.
  5. Generalization:
    • Situation: Make a list of situations where you tend to generalize. For each situation, note the details and the generalization you made.
    • Exercise: Look for examples and evidence that contradict the generalization. Review your journal and identify repeated thinking patterns, noting your progress over time.

Note: If you encounter a problem and cannot overcome it on your own, don’t abandon it. Seek a therapist to work with. Psychotherapy sessions create a context for quiet, allowing you to hear your thoughts, express them as they come to mind, and then reflect on them with someone else. In dialogue, the process works better.