We break down how to resolve the unhelpful thinking habits we all have

Change your mindset

BRAIN researchers have proved that, like our body’s muscles, our brains are continually active every second of the day. With our brain generating thousands of thoughts each day, some are really useful, but there are also some that are best left to the side.

Overthinking and excessive worrying creates feelings of distress and restlessness that may lead to anxiety or depression if not dealt with. The global estimate of the prevalence of anxiety disorders is 24.9% among adults, and this would mean more than 7 million Malaysians suffer from a type of anxiety disorder.

In order to take control of your thoughts, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression and anxiety disorders.

The first step is to see negative thoughts for what they are, by naming and understanding the thoughts so that you can take a step back and make a conscious decision to stop putting more energy into them.

After that, you can distance yourself from those thoughts and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.

Black and white thinking

Also known as dichotomous or polarised thinking, the habit of believing that something or someone can only be good or bad, right or wrong, in one extreme or the other, rather than anything in-between is considered a cognitive distortion because it keeps us from seeing the world as it often is. An all-or-nothing mindset doesn’t allow us to find the middle ground.

How black and white thinking may sound like: “My boss is a bad guy.” “All men are evil and I can never trust them.”

The fact is: Things aren’t either totally white or totally black. Instead, most things are complex, nuanced, and all the shades in between.


Also known as over generalising, this negative thought process is when you take a single event or limited piece of information and see it as how things are. You imagine and believe that the worst possible thing will happen, and find yourself using words like always or never.

How it may sound like: “I’m going to fail my exams, which means I’m a bad student, that means I’ll never get my degree or find a job, and I’ll never be financially stable.”

The truth is: We can’t predict the future and when we blow things out of proportion, we might perceive the situation as horrendous and horrible, even though the problem is quite small in reality.

Instead, tell yourself: “Imagining the worst possible situation right now isn’t really helpful. What’s most likely to happen?”

Compare And Despair

This bad thinking habit is seeing only the good and positive aspects in others while comparing ourselves negatively against them. You want whatever another person has because you’re telling yourself you’d be happier if you had it, or you’d believe you were more worthy.

The truth is: What creates happiness and feelings of worth are your thoughts and how you perceive things. You already have everything you need to be as happy or feel as worthy as you imagine anyone else is or does.

Emotional Reasoning

How it may sound like: “If I feel bad, it must be bad!” “I feel anxious, so I must be in danger!” “I feel guilty. The whole thing must be my fault.” “I feel angry. This must mean that I’m being treated unfairly.”

This bad habit is when you assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are. Just because something feels bad, doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad.

The truth is: Your feelings are just a reaction to my thoughts, and thoughts are just automatic brain reflexes that you cannot help. It doesn’t mean that it is reality.


This thinking habit is making judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for.

Instead, remind yourself: “I’m making an evaluation about the situation or person. It’s how I make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean my judgments are always right or helpful. What other perspective can I see this from?”


Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, and that can lead us to believe that the current situation we’re facing is as bad as our past traumas. Reminding ourselves of our past and constantly reliving our trauma will cause us distress.

For example, you might’ve encountered a situation where your opinion wasn’t valued, and think that everyone who ignores you also doesn’t value your opinion. This might lead to anger, even if the other person might just be busy in the current situation.

The truth is: That was then and this is now. Even though this memory might upset you, it’s not actually happening again right now.

Mental Filter

This bad thinking habit is when we filter what we want to notice in our surroundings and dismiss everything else. Usually, this means looking at the negative parts of a situation and making it the whole situation while ignoring all the positive parts.

To consider whether you’re doing this, ask yourself: “Am I only noticing only the bad stuff and filtering out all the positives?”


This is when we assume we know what the other person is thinking even though we don’t. Usually, it’s an assumption that the other person is making a negative judgement about you.

Try and think: “Is there any evidence that the person is thinking this? Or are these my own thoughts?”

Shoulds And Musts

Most often found in perfectionists, this thinking habit is where you focus on how you or other people in your life should’ve done something this way, or that you/they must do something, rather than how it is. Thinking or saying this puts pressure on us to do things perfectly and sets up unrealistic expectations.

Ask yourself: “What would be more realistic? Is this something that I can change?”

Stewing or ruminating

When you find yourself running things over and over in your mind without any new input or action being taken. Typically, this thinking habit leads to problems feeling bigger than they actually are.

The next time you catch yourself repeating these habits, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. Understand that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, and not to be too hard on yourself. As we learn to recognize our distortions in thinking that are creating problems, we can then reevaluate them in light of reality and gain a better understanding of our behaviours.