How to Understand and Review Thinking Process


Faced with social events and all kinds of related information, we may unconsciously fall into have thinking traps that hijack our analysis (thoughts), affect our emotions and behaviours. Identifying these thinking traps can help us build an objective attitude and protect us from being affected by incorrect information and irrational thoughts.


How to relieve emotions and stress

Thoughts are closely related to negative emotions, while our negative emotions and thoughts interact with our behaviours and physical responses, creating a vicious circle. Here is an example for us to have a brief study.

Ancestors of humans instinctively paid attention to negative news or things first in order to survive. For example, when a tiger and food appear in front of us at the same time, we will focus on the tiger first and ignore the delicious food. In the past, this psychological tendency allowed us to survive. And today, there is no beast in the civilized society, but human beings still have a deep-rooted instinct to think of the worst-case scenarios. Such thought is called negativity bias. Negativity bias means that regardless of whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, humans are more concerned about "bad news" and are more likely to recall negative memories than the positive ones.

Likewise, in social events, all of us tend to put emphasis on negative things. How can we break this vicious cycle? First of all, we have to stop, think about it, and ask ourselves rationally if we have distorted the facts of events in our thinking process and have thinking traps. Here are some common thinking traps:

Thinking Traps



All-or-none Thinking Think there are only two sides to every story that there are merely right and wrong without other possibilities.

If you are not my friend, you are my enemy.


Overgeneralisation Draw a conclusion based on information that is too general and/or not specific enough A few friends who have come back from Canada love to watch ice hockey matches, so I think that all the people who have lived in Canada love watching ice hockey matches.
Catastrophising Thoughts Amplify the seriousness of the matter and treat it as a "catastrophe", and foresee the worst scenario

-I have a headache so I probably suffer from a brain cancer.

-The economy is getting worse, so I will soon lose my job and will not have enough money to take care of my wife and children!
Mind Reading Reach an opinion which is not based on evidence and believe that you know what others think

-My colleagues did not invite me to have lunch, so it means that they do not like me.

-I know clearly which side that person supports.


Think that you have to take full responsibility for the matter

Our team lost the competition because of my unsatisfactory performance.
Disqualifying the Positive Underestimate your own efforts and belittle your own merits. I have completed the task successfully this time but it was just a fluke.
Emotional Reasoning Believe that your own negative emotions reflect the truth I feel helpless, so I am sure that no one can help me and nothing can be changed.


Looking back on the previous example, we cannot rule out that the man in a hat following behind is really a thief, but it is also possible that we fall into thinking traps and erroneously believe we can read his mind. If you are aware of the thinking traps and review your thoughts rationally, you can effectively reduce negative emotions and behaviours.

Once we understand our thoughts (Part A), we can use different techniques to review our thinking process, including: find evidence, possible causes of the event, the best and the worst outcomes, etc.

Find Evidence
Find Evidence

We have to list the evidence for and against a thought.

Is there any evidence supporting the thought of "he is certainly a thief"?

  1. He is suspicious
  2. He has been following behind me
Find Evidence
Find Evidence

Is there any evidence against the thought of "he is certainly a thief"?

  1. Perhaps he lives nearby as well
  2. The security of the nearby area has always been good
Possible Causes of the Event
Possible Causes of the Event

We can also list various reasons why the event occurred and assess the probability of each cause. For example, he has been following behind for the following reasons:

  1. He also lives nearby (40%)
  2. He is looking for his friends (30%)
  3. He is taking a stroll (10%)
  4. He is a thief and wants to rob me (10%)
  5. He has other bad intentions (10%)
Best and Worst Outcomes
Best and Worst Outcomes

Moreover, we can think about the best and the worst possible outcomes of the event. When we are faced with the worst outcome, we can ask ourselves three more questions: How to respond to the worst outcome? Is this an unbearable outcome? Is this a controllable or uncontrollable outcome?


Let us illustrate with an example:

Best outcome: He lives nearby and is also on his way home.

Worst outcome: He wants to rob me or has other bad intentions against me.

How to respond to the worst outcome? For instance, you may try protecting yourself or getting help.

Is this a controllable or uncontrollable outcome? For example, you cannot control his behaviour, but you can keep a distance from him.

Is this an unbearable outcome? If you can accept the worst outcome (i.e. he is going to rob me, but I know this route better than him and I am able to get rid of him), you will find that it is not as terrible as you have thought!

From the above example, we can eliminate unhelpful negative thoughts by understanding and reviewing our thinking process, thereby breaking this vicious cycle and reducing negative emotions.