Are Your Thoughts Holding You Back?


When we’re on the brink of change, habitual thought patterns can hold us back. Being creatures of habit, our minds want us to stay in our warm, safe comfort zone. To stay put saves us energy and we know what to expect. We think we have things figured out and that helps us feel in control. That’s great unless we want things to change.

A lot of the time, when we unpick the thoughts that hold us back from implementing change, we realise they are perhaps representing a distorted view of reality. The way we perceive the world might not be entirely accurate. At a NLP training event the other week, this concept was described as us all constructing our own maps, based on our past experiences and belief systems. The territory is out there, representative of a factual reality. However, the maps we construct are often very different to the actual terrain.

Here are the common ways in which we often distort reality. Have a read and over the next week, see if you find yourself falling in to any of these common patterns of thinking.

Common patterns of distorted thinking

1. Victim Thinking

External events and people dictate your emotions e.g. Why does everyone else get the lucky breaks? Why does it always rain when I have to go out the house? It’s not my fault. No one will give me a job.

2. Attached Meaning

Experiencing a single negative event and attaching a general meaning to it e.g. They rejected my application therefore I am useless. They haven’t replied to my email therefore they don’t think much of me. That youth in the hoody is going to mug me. Those children are going to disturb my peace.

3. Mind Reading

Believing that you know what another person is feeling or thinking e.g. They think I messed up that interview. They don’t like me. They think I’m a failure. I know what you’re thinking.

4. Sneaky Judgements

Making a judgement about someone without an accurate source e.g. People have told me it is really hard work and not possible. People say that person is not very nice. It’s a fact that women don’t make it to the top.

5. Nominalisation

Making a situation static, looking at things in black or white with no middle ground e.g. I’m never going to find a job. If I fall short of my expectations, I am a failure. This is it for me, it’s never going to get any better. I’m stuck in this job forever.

6. Mental filter

Focusing on the negatives while filtering out all the positives. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right e.g. ignoring compliments at work and only focussing on the mistakes.

7. Diminishing the positive

Coming up with reasons why the positive doesn’t count e.g. That went well but that was just luck. They just said that to try and make me feel better, they didn’t really mean it. They say well done/thank you to everybody all the time, it’s no big deal.

8. Catastrophising

Expecting the worst-case scenario to happen e.g. I didn’t get an interview, I’m never to going to find a job like that one again. If I change career, it might not work out and then I will be broke, homeless, and everyone will think I’m a failure.

9. Shoulds and should nots

Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules e.g. I should be earning a six figure salary by now. I should know what job I want to do. I shouldn’t have to work for no money. I’m nearly 30, I should be married, own a house, and have children by now. I shouldn’t be renting at my age.

10. Labelling

Llabelling yourself and others on mistakes and perceived shortcomings e.g. I am stupid. He’s lazy. They don’t understand.

11. Personalisation

Assuming responsibility for things that are outside your control e.g. It’s my fault I’m being made redundant.

Distorted reality

So, what do you do if you find yourself falling in to these traps and distorting reality? Ask yourself these questions to challenge your perceptions:

  • What’s the evidence that the thought is not true?
  • Is there a more optimistic, realistic way of looking at the situation?
  • What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen?
  • If the probability is low, what are some more likely outcomes?
  • Is the thought helpful? How will it help me and how will it stop me from moving forward?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this belief?

Hopefully these questions will allow you see that the way you’re interpreting the situation might not be entirely true. By challenging your habitual thoughts and seeing reality more accurately, you will be able to move forward and implement change more easily.

Hope that helps!

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.