10 Thoughts That Are Holding You Back

10 Thoughts That Are Holding You Back

The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking.

Eckhart Tolle

Ever had a thought that you know is probably not based in fact, but is just so hard to shake?

Maybe it’s an exaggerated reaction to something that’s happened.

Or a belief about what will happen in the future.

You’re not trying to think it. You just… do.

Also known as “cognitive distortions” or “thinking errors”, these are types of thinking that don’t necessarily align with what’s really going on around us.

What makes them tricky to recognize is that these types of thinking can occur so rapidly, they often feel automatic or outside our control.

Fortunately, it’s possible to outsmart these thoughts.

But, the first step is to recognize them.

Today we’re highlighting 10 thoughts that may be holding you back:

1. “All-or-Nothing” Thoughts

One of the most common types of thinking, this is sometimes called “black and white” thinking.

It’s characterized by extremes:

Everything and everyone in the world can be sorted into polarized categories, like “good / bad”, “success / failure”, “always / never”.

It leaves little to no room for the gray areas in life. For balance or imperfection or growth or learning.


  • “I never impress my boss.”
  • “I have a bad time at parties.” 

2. Overgeneralizing

Of the many types of thinking, this one feels the most automatic to many of us.

We take one incident, interaction, or fact, and generalize it to the rest of our life.


  • “I can’t believe she said that to me. Everyone from this town is rude.”
  • “How could I let my son break his arm? I’m a terrible parent.”

3. Filtering out the Positive

Perfectionists of the world:

This one will be all too familiar to you.

Filtering out the positive means that no matter how many positive things happen, the negative ones will generally occupy most of our focus, attention, and energy.

Over time, this can cause us to actually devalue the positive aspects of our life.


  • “Sure, I got mostly high ratings, but I can’t stop thinking about that one low score.”
  • “I know plenty of people raved about my brownies and asked for the recipe, but why didn’t that one guest even try one?”  

4. Mind-reading

We all dabble is a little guesswork when it comes to interpreting the behaviors of others.

After all, unless we ask, we can never know what someone else may be thinking… right?

But, when it comes to this type of thinking, we’re all psychic. Assuming the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of those around us without stopping to collect any evidence.


  • “I saw how he looked at me. He thinks I’m an idiot.”
  • “Everyone’s laughing at me, I just know it.”

5. Catastrophizing

One of the types of thinking that mean just what they sound like, catastrophizing involves taking what we know about a situation and rapidly morphing it into an epic catastrophe.


  • “I made a late payment. I’m going to end up bankrupt one day.”
  • “We had a fight last night. I honestly don’t think we’re gonna make it as a couple.”

6. Emotional Reasoning

Our emotions can provide valuable information.

Basing our decisions around our emotions is not always helpful, however.

Especially when those emotions don’t match the reality of our situation.


  • “I’m feeling nervous about the event. I’m calling to cancel.”
  • “I’m still angry about what she said. I think I should just end the relationship.”

7. Labeling

Ever seen a young child point to objects and people around them, naming what they are?

That’s an important way we first learn to interact with the world around us.

Unfortunately, we sometimes revert to slapping simplistic labels on people, places, and situations even when we’re capable of thinking much more complexly than that.


  • “Her report had errors? She’s useless.”
  • “I forgot their anniversary. I’m so selfish.”

8. “Fortune-telling” Thoughts

It’s natural to feel curious about what the future holds.

Especially when we’re nervous or excited.

But, when we start assuming we know what will happen, it can set us up for negative thoughts, emotions, and hasty decision-making.


  • “Why even try? I know I’m going to screw it up.”
  • “My team’s gonna lose tomorrow, just watch…”

9. Personalization

When you close your eyes, does that mean everyone else on earth is in the dark, too?

Of course not.

And yet that’s what this type of thinking assumes: That the world revolves around us.


  • “She didn’t return my call. It must be something I said.”
  • “He was so grumpy today. Maybe he hates me.”

10. “Unreal Ideal” Thoughts

One tip for spotting this type of thinking?

It’s often accompanied by words like “ought to”, “have to”, “should” and “shouldn’t”.

It involves making comparisons about ourselves and others that are unfair, unrealistic, or even impossible.


  • “I ought to have dinner on the table on time like a good parent.”
  • “I should have been able to finish that race.”

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Having Anxious Thoughts? Give this a Try
Sadness vs. Depression: What’s the Difference?
Positive Thinking: Is It Always Best?

Ready to learn more about unhelpful thoughts and how to start challenging them?