Too much or too little, never in-between. We often develop this kind of mindset after having experienced stressful events in our lives or from those around us. It’s safe to say that our thoughts, beliefs, experiences, whether good or bad, can have a significant impact on how we lead our lives.

While the right experiences can boost your confidence to be a go-getter, the bitter ones can keep you stuck in a rut unless you’ve taken time to assess your thoughts and if they’re doing more harm than good.So the question arises naturally -- are your thoughts holding you back? Or are you able to break free of negative beliefs and build your life with a positive outlook?

MSc. Health Psychologist & Habit Expert, Pooja Naik, helps us understand the different thoughts that could be holding you back and tips on how to break away from them.

Negative thoughts or Cognitive Distortions that may be holding you back from living your best life

Mental Filtering

When you focus on what’s not working rather than what’s going right, you view reality based on a faulty perspective that prevents you from seeing things with an open mind. This cognitive distortion usually plays out when it comes to adverse events which magnify bitter aspects of past experiences, thus eventually triggering an impulsive response for future events.

Try this: Every time you begin to think like this, halt your thought immediately and see the good that comes with that particular situation.

Black-or-White or Polarised Thinking

Have you ever started a new diet and indulged in a little piece of chocolate only to think you’ve failed at keeping up with your plan. Black-or-white thinking may lead you to believe that you’ve failed at sticking to your diet plan and then you end up binging on an entire box of chocolates.

Try this: Seeing just two sides of a situation often neglects the middle, which sometimes means the answers lie in the grey areas. Develop a habit of looking at your progress and not just the destination.


Your friend declines your invitation to attend a party. Even before you give her a chance to voice out reasons for not being able to make it, you’ve concluded that she’s avoiding you. It doesn’t stop there; you go on to think she’s embarrassed to be seen with you.

Try this: Whenever you find yourself thinking of the worst, pause and reflect. Is it possible that she’s got valid reasons for declining your party invitation? Find evidence that counters assumptions that you’ve drawn. Even if the assumption turns out to be true, you’re only becoming stronger as an individual.


“I’m not good enough” — a common statement that rings in your head for that one time you failed at something. What about things that you naturally excel in? Labels that stem from past negative experiences reinforce beliefs that don’t serve you.

Try this: Challenge yourself to make a list -- mentally or on a paper -- of things you are good at. If you aren’t good at mathematics then what about your other skills like public speaking, writing and so on?


Are you someone who feels sorry or know someone who always feels sorry for themselves? A victim mindset based on past/present trauma and feeling pity for themselves can be mentally exhausting.

Try this: By acknowledging that thoughts and feelings can be managed and changed, you can shift from a victim mindset to a growth mindset. It requires some level of honesty and introspection to demand more of yourself than consider yourself a victim of your past or present circumstances.

Must & Should — Rigid Rule Keeping

If you have a list of rules about how you or other people should behave, it’s quite evident that you get annoyed when people fail to comply. “Must” and “Should” can be helpful at times, but this standard can create impractical expectations that you or others will find hard to live up to in life.

Try this: Learn to be more flexible and replace words like “must”, “should” with “prefer” and “want”.


A cognitive distortion where you may tend to minimise your positive qualities while magnifying another person's positive traits. It’s a defence mechanism to lower people’s expectations of you. While having humility is lovely, it’s not beneficial when it’s at the cost of your self-esteem.

Try this: Journal — take note of the positive experiences and focus on building your self-worth.

The Fallacy of Fairness

“It’s not fair that I’m not taller or richer, “It’s not fair if someone is doing well in his life”, “It’s not fair that my friend is happy in her relationship.” When you blame the world for your current circumstances, you take away your power from working towards what you want.

Try this: Realise your strengths instead of comparing yourself to others. Let’s face it; things may not go in your favour even if they should. But the more you dwell on the idea of “fairness”, the more miserable you will feel.

Confusing Feelings With Facts

Defining yourself based on how you feel can be dangerous. For instance, if you define yourself as anxious, you may act anxious. If you define yourself based on emotion, you may end up assigning your identity and self-esteem to it.

Try this: Stop and ask yourself if what you’re thinking is real? Is it something that you are at the core of your being or is it something you’re feeling just in the moment?

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

An irrational thinking pattern where you hold a false belief that a divine force will soon reward self- sacrifice. For example, if you’re constantly being bullied at work or experiencing violence from a partner, you believe that going through this evident pain will eventually pay off.

Try this: Notice your inner voice — are you saying “yes” to things when you want to say “no”.

Your thoughts impact how you feel

How you feel can create certain emotions. These emotions then govern the way you interpret experiences. These interpretations and faulty thinking patterns may hold you back from seeing things for what they are.

Everything begins with a thought, and it’s vital to invest time and energy into becoming self-aware and not let cognitive distortions dictate your course of life. If you find it hard to work through these cognitive distortions, it’s always helpful to seek support from a professional.

This piece was first published on Medium. The information has been edited for length.

Oct 19, 2021
Healthy Mind

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