By Dr. Jack Singer
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Financial Advisor Trainer and Coach
Recall that in my last segment, I discussed the thinking patterns in which we frequently engage whenever we encounter difficult or challenging events. And, if our “Internal Critics” are allowed to run rampant, those thinking patterns tend to be self-defeating, negative and pessimistic. Often, these patterns of thinking are irrational expectations and beliefs about ourselves, how others view us, the situation and/or pessimistic predictions about how the situation will turn out. Such habitual thinking patterns exacerbates our stress dramatically and can lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and even worthlessness!
I discussed All or Nothing, Mind-Reading, Mental Filter, Magnification and Catastrophising. In this segment I will discuss Having to be Right, Should Statements, Overgeneralization, Blaming and Emotional Reasoning.
Having to be Right
“ I certainly know much more than my clients do about investing and wealth management. Therefore, if I make a recommendation, it had better be right.”
This form of distorted thinking develops out of insecurity. You are worried about what it says about you if you are ever wrong. Unpredictable downturns in the market can lead to losses for your clients, yet you feel so strongly that you have to be right in your predictions, that you don’t provide the inevitable market fluctuation caveat to them when making recommendations.
You rarely consult with colleagues before making recommendations to clients, believing that shows a weakness about you to both your clients and your colleagues. Consequently, you tend to ignore or discount others’ (especially clients’) opinions, if they disagree with yours. Your mind is closed to other possibilities because you are very threatened by the idea that you could be wrong.
“I never should have made that recommendation. Look how it turned out! I’d better be more careful the next time I make a recommendation or I will surely lose this client.”
If you look carefully, you will also see Catastrophising (Fortune Telling) in this distortion.
People whose thoughts frequently include “ I should…,” “I must…,” or “I’d better…” are making an unconscious assumption that there is a universal list of iron clad “rules” (in addition to the laws of the land and your particular religious commandments) to which we must all adhere, or we will be judged in a negative way. If you break the “rule” (e.g., “I never should have…”), it leads to you having feelings of guilt and incompetence. If someone else breaks the “rule” (e.g., “He never should have…”) it leads to you feeling angry or frustrated.
Although we often regret actions that had unfortunate outcomes and we may occasionally use a phrase such as “I should have,” the continual use of such words leaves no room for innocent mistakes. It smacks of having to be perfect in order to feel good about yourself.
“Since I lost money for my client thinking I made a good investment decision, I will probably continue to do so. It seems like every time he asks my advice, I make suggestions that are awful. He’ll probably fire me”
If you look carefully at this string of thoughts, it also involves Catastrophizing (Fortune Telling).
Overgeneralization involves an incident or situation in which you fail to achieve what you desire and you generalize from that situation to an overwhelming series of negative ideas about yourself. You believe that because of this unfortunate incident, it is inevitable that it will be followed by a never-ending pattern of similar unfortunate events.
A tip-off to this kind of thinking pattern is the frequent use of words such as never, always, all, every and none. These absolutes are exaggerations of reality and they are extremely self-defeating.
“I’m struggling in my business because I have a bunch of clients who expect me to accurately predict the market. Who do they think I am, anyway, a psychic?”
This is an interesting example of distorted thinking because it is common to find someone or something to blame when you fail to accomplish something important to you. In fact, there may be an advantage to finding an excuse to explain failure, rather than blaming yourself, as if you are hopelessly incompetent. The real problem with the Blaming distortion is when you rarely take responsibility for events that befall you and continuously blame others. Obviously, when this happens you don’t learn from your mistakes.
“I feel so stupid because I couldn’t answer my client’s complicated question. Since I feel stupid, I’ll probably always struggle with these kinds of questions.”
This example of distorted thinking involves drawing the wrong conclusion, based strictly on your emotions at the time. Because you feel an emotion or have a negative thought, you conclude it must be true. So, if if you make a mistake and describe it as stupid, then you conclude that you are stupid.
If you feel anger after speaking on the phone with a client, you conclude that the client must have done something wrong to you, rather than realizing that your angry emotions may be based on faulty thinking or not having all of the information (such as believing that your client will always be angry at you for not having the answer right away).