Breaking Free from Limiting Thoughts: 10 Common Thinking Errors

Tekeridis John
7 min readFeb 27, 2023

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You may believe that you control your thoughts and decisions completely, but often they are influenced by things you don’t even realize are happening in your mind. There are 10 mental traps, errors, biases, and other phenomena that exist in your brain that affect your thinking.

Our thoughts and decisions can be influenced by mental traps and biases we’re not even aware of. By recognizing and questioning these errors, we can improve our decision-making and avoid limiting thoughts.

1. Cognitive Dissonance

The story of the fox and the grapes is a fable that teaches us about cognitive dissonance. When we want something, but can’t have it, we might make excuses to make ourselves feel better. For example, if we don’t get a job we wanted, we might say we didn’t really want it anyway. This creates conflicting beliefs in our mind and causes stress and anxiety.

To avoid cognitive dissonance, we should be honest with ourselves and accept our failures. Instead of making excuses, we can ask ourselves what we can do differently next time. By taking responsibility for our actions, we can learn and grow from our experiences.

If we notice ourselves experiencing cognitive dissonance, we can ask ourselves what beliefs are conflicting and why we are making excuses. We can take action to change our behavior and eliminate the dissonance.

In short, the story of the fox and the grapes teaches us that making excuses can lead to cognitive dissonance and stress. By being honest with ourselves and taking responsibility for our actions, we can avoid cognitive dissonance and grow as individuals.

2. The spotlight effect

The spotlight effect is when you think that people are watching you more than they really are. For example, if you’re late to work, you might feel like everyone is judging you. But in reality, people are usually not paying as much attention to you as you think. So don’t worry too much about what others might be thinking. By realizing that the spotlight effect is just a feeling and not necessarily the truth, you can reduce your anxiety and feel more comfortable in social situations.

3. The anchoring effect

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that affects our decision making when we have to make guesses or estimates. We use anchors, which are starting points, to guide our thinking. But sometimes we use anchors when we don’t need to. The anchoring effect can influence our judgments even when the anchor is random or arbitrary. Salespeople and negotiators often use anchoring to set a high initial price, so that the actual price they want to get seems like a good deal. The price you anchor first can determine how people perceive the value of your offer. To avoid being influenced by anchoring, we can remind ourselves of our vulnerability to it and set our own mental anchors before going into any sales or negotiation environment.

4. The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is when a single initial aspect of a person or thing determines an effect and outshines how we see the full picture. For example, if we learn that someone graduated from a prestigious university, we might think they are more trustworthy and intelligent without any evidence. This effect can occur in various situations, including relationships, schools, and the work environment. The first piece of information we receive about someone often carries more weight and influences our judgment, which can be inaccurate from reality. To combat this, it is essential to move beyond the first appearance of someone or something and gather more information before making conclusions. Independent judgments can help us avoid the Halo Effect’s influence, especially in group settings like meetings.

5. Gamble’s effect

When flipping a coin, whether it lands on heads or tails is equally likely each time, even if it landed on heads three times in a row before. However, most people tend to believe in a balancing force in the universe, leading them to choose tails after a streak of heads. This belief is called the Gamble’s fallacy and can lead people to underestimate the likelihood of streaks occurring by chance. This fallacy can apply to any sequence of decisions, such as in multiple-choice exams or loan approvals. It is important to understand the difference between independent events, which are not influenced by balancing forces of nature, and interdependent events.

6. The Contrast Effect

When we shop, our judgments can be influenced by the contrast effect. For example, if we see an expensive item next to a cheaper one, the expensive item may seem more attractive. This can also happen when we compare the price of an item to the overall cost of something else. For instance, a $3,000 leather seat upgrade may seem expensive when we are considering it on its own. However, if we are buying an $80,000 car, the $3,000 upgrade may seem like a small price to pay.

Research has shown that people are willing to walk an extra 10 minutes to save $10 on food. However, most people wouldn’t walk the same amount of time to save $10 on a $1,000 suit. This is because the $10 discount doesn’t seem like a significant amount when compared to the total cost of the suit.

So, it’s important to be aware of how the contrast effect can influence our purchasing decisions. We should try to make judgments based on the value of the item itself, rather than being swayed by its surroundings or the overall cost of something else.

7. Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is when you have a belief about something and you look for evidence that supports that belief. This makes you more convinced that your belief is true. If you come across evidence that doesn’t support your belief, your brain filters it out and you forget about it. This is because we don’t like being wrong or making bad decisions. Social media can make this problem worse by showing us content that agrees with our beliefs and filtering out opposing viewpoints. This creates “echo chambers” where everyone thinks the same way and opposing perspectives disappear. Confirmation bias can lead to the belief that we are always right and make us defensive and hostile when someone challenges our opinions. To reduce the effect of confirmation bias, it’s important to be aware of it and try to think critically, explore grey areas, and get information from a variety of sources. The objective truth is usually somewhere in between opposing viewpoints.

8. Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon.

Confirmation bias is when you only look for evidence that supports your beliefs and ignore evidence that contradicts them. This can make you more convinced that you are right and make it hard to consider other perspectives. Social media can make this problem worse by showing you content that agrees with your beliefs and filtering out opposing viewpoints. To reduce the effect of confirmation bias, it’s important to be aware of it and try to think critically, explore grey areas, and get information from a variety of sources.

9. Zeigarnik effect

The Zegonic effect is when we remember incomplete tasks more than completed ones. We used to think that the only way to get rid of this effect was to finish the tasks, but research showed that just having a plan to finish them can help. So, if you’re worried about unfinished tasks, write down a plan to complete them to ease your mind. Writing it down will help you remember the plan and feel less stressed about the unfinished tasks.

10. The paradox of choice

Having too many choices can be overwhelming and lead to decision fatigue. This is known as the paradox of choice. In a supermarket experiment, when 24 types of jam were available, 60% of shoppers were attracted but only 3% bought jam. However, when only 6 types of jam were available, 40% of shoppers were attracted and 30% bought jam. This shows that too many choices can lead to paralysis and a negative subjective state. The same phenomenon can be observed in modern dating, where having too many options can lead to regret and dissatisfaction with the final choice. Having a smaller number of options can actually lead to better decision-making and greater satisfaction with the final choice.

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