November 19, 2008

Thought Trap #5: Jumping to conclusions

Thought Trap #5: Jumping to Conclusions

Continuing on in the series on Thought Traps.

You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

Now, let's be honest, people. This is something most of us do on a daily basis.

You don't hear back from someone you e-mailed last week, and you jump to the conclusion that he's blowing you off. Then you discover that there was a death in the family and the person has been otherwise occupied.

As a speaker, this might happen when an audience member asks a challenging question, and you jump to the conclusion that the person is trying to make you look bad, so you respond defensively.

Or the audience gets up and leaves quickly after your presentation, instead of sticking around to talk and ask questions, so you jump to the conclusion that you weren't any good.

Jumping to negative conclusions is a big sign of insecurity and, let's face it, a lot of us have some level of insecurity. It's hard sometimes to imagine that what seems to be a negative occurrence is not negative at all or, in fact, has nothing to do with you whatsoever.

Allow yourself to entertain some other possibilities besides the negative ones.

An audience member asks you a challenging question? Maybe he's really just trying to understand.

The audience gets up and leaves quickly? Maybe they're taking their colleague to lunch and their reservation is in ten minutes. (This happened to me).

Someone doesn't return your e-mail or phone call? The person got busy, went on vacation, your e-mail went to her spam folder.

If you're concerned, follow up with someone. If you're worried that the presentation didn't go well, talk to the organizer afterward to get feedback or, if you're so inclined, hand out evaluations to be returned later.

Talk to the audience member after the presentation to see if his tough question was answered sufficiently. You might end up having a great conversation with an interesting person.

The trick is not to let yourself get caught up in negative speculation. Speculation has nothing to do with reality and facts, and jumping to negative conclusions just makes you feel bad about yourself.

Here again, suggestions on how to approach these negative thoughts once you become aware of them (from a Mother Jones article about cognitive therapy and thought traps):

1. Write it down. Writing automatically provides perspective and helps reveal distorted thinking.

2. Identify the distressing event. What's really bothering you?

3. Identify your negative emotions.

4. Identify the negative thoughts tied to your emotions.

5. Identify distortions and substitute the truth.

And my addition:

6. Take action. What will you do differently next time?

(Buy your very own "Jump to Conclusions Mat" here.)

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

Excellent point. I did a talk the other day on some of these similiar things. One thing I believe is that our thouhgs can be like our side veiw mirror - objects appear bigger than they are. We make things too big in our mind when they are usually small things. Great post!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's a great analogy, Tony! Thanks.

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