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Stress: Thinking Errors that Hinder Optimism

Much of your stress might come from looking at the future with either anxiety or hopelessness. Fearing the uncertainty of the future, believing that the worst will happen, depressing yourself about the future, believing that nothing good will come of it can cause untold stress.

But your life can be far less stressful if you look forward with more optimistic and hopeful attitudes. Being optimistic is not simply believing that everything in your life will turn out wonderfully. Being optimistic means believing that your important life goals can somehow be accomplished and that you can find ways to make those goals happen.

A first step in cultivating optimism is recognizing the distorting attitudes that undermine how you view your future. If you look closely, you realize that you may be experiencing some common thinking errors. Here are some examples which might reflect your own pessimistic and hopeless thinking:

  • Overgeneralization: Thinking in terms of “all or nothing,” always and never, and black-and-white opposites such as good and bad, right and wrong. For example:

    • “Everybody thinks I’m stupid!”

    • “People never change!”

    • “Everybody is always only out for themselves!”

  • Conclusion jumping: Taking one small bit of current evidence and wrongly predicting negative future outcomes. For example:

    • “Because I failed this test, no college is going to admit me.”

    • “Because he didn’t say hello to me yesterday, I have to assume he doesn’t like me.”

    • “Because she wasn’t interested in me, I’ll never be in a relationship.”

  • Self-rating: Taking one of your traits, abilities, or performances, and/or other people’s disapproval, and equating that with your self-worth. For example:

    • “My boss criticized my handling of the project. I’m incompetent!”

    • “I failed that test. I’m stupid!”

    • “I let her down! I’m really a bad person.”

  • Catastrophizing and awfulizing: Predicting that the worst will happen in the future. For example:

    • “I know this headache means I have cancer!”

    • “I know I’ll screw up this interview!”

    • “I know I’ll grow old alone with no one to be with me!”

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