Iris Mini: Thought Errors

A cancer diagnosis can stir up feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness. It is not uncommon to experience unhelpful, negative thoughts.

This exercise may help to identify unhelpful thought patterns and to offer an alternate lens from which to reframe your thoughts, which can improve your mood and overall coping.

Thought Error


Alternative Thought

All-or-Nothing Thoughts: You see things in black and white categories.

I am not able to be physically active anymore as I feel fatigued shortly after I exercise.

Remind yourself you are not one action.

Try: I may not be able to run a mile right now, but perhaps I can walk around the block and build up to a mile-long run over time.

Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

I am feeling fatigued and don’t feel like cooking. I’ll never like cooking again.

Remind yourself this is a moment in time.

Try: Today I don’t want to make my favorite meal. Tomorrow I may have more energy.

Jumping to Conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though the facts don’t support your conclusion.

Every side effect I have makes me think the treatment is not working.

Ask yourself, what is my evidence to support my conclusion? Am I considering all the evidence?

Try: Before jumping to conclusions about what a symptom means, I can wonder if I have all the information or plan for how I can get the information I need.

Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you even if you don’t know this for sure.

Your best friend hasn’t acknowledged that you are now wearing a wig. You assume they are embarrassed to be with you.

Check out your assumptions with the person to clarify your understanding.

Try: My friend doesn’t know if I want to discuss my wig, so I ask her to talk about it with me.

Being a Fortune Teller: You predict how things will turn out, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.

My oncologist has not responded to my message and that must mean the news is bad.

Stop yourself and ask, “Is this a fact? Or am I predicting someone’s feeling?” 

Try: I can’t know the outcome until I have all the facts. 

Magnification (Catastrophizing) Or Minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as a mistake or someone else's achievement) or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your strengths or achievements).

When I returned to work after short-term disability leave, it appeared everything ran smoothly. I am not a valued and needed team member because they did fine without me.

Am I focusing on one moment or event? Is there more information to add to the “big picture”?

Try: I have a great work team, and they really stepped up to help.

Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."

I had trouble finding parking and am very annoyed, so I experience everything that day at the hospital as annoying.

Remind yourself that you are not your emotions and emotions pass.

Try: Although my day started with an annoying event, it does not have to continue to be annoying. My feelings can change.

Should Statements: You motivate yourself with “should," “should nots," and “musts”

I should answer every email that is sent to me.

Consider what you want and can do at this time, and not what you think you are supposed to do.

Try: I want to respond to every text and email, but I don’t have the energy and I accept that fact without judging myself.

My Unique Thinking Challenge: What is it?

What is an example?

What is the alternative?

How could I think differently?


Adapted from: Beck A.T., Greenberg R.L. (1984) Cognitive Therapy in the Treatment of Depression. In: Hoffman N. (eds) Foundations of Cognitive Therapy. Springer, Boston, MA.