The other day I worked late and my husband was home with the kids, doing dinner, homework and the general after-school chaos.
When I walked in the door within seconds I could tell what kind of evening it was.
Whether everything was in its usual place (backpacks, shoes, etc.), the state of the kitchen counters, or the sound of music, laughing, crying, TV or arguing between my 2 daughters, all helped identify the type of evening that had just occurred.
It’s amazing that within seconds I am able to accurately predict how the evening has gone and the current environment of our home.
Scientists call this the “predictive brain.”
The interactions of brain processes that lead us to make predictions. (read more about that here…)
For many years, scientists believed that our neurons spend most of their time dormant and wake up only when stimulated by some sight or sound in the world.
Now it’s understood that neurons are firing constantly, making millions of predictions of what you will encounter next in the world, based on your lifetime of past experience. (read more about that here…)
God created our minds so we are able to predict danger and get to safety, anticipate the ball that’s thrown to us and get into position to catch it.
As it says in John 10:10, “what God intended for good, the devil steals to cause harm.”
Overgeneralization is an unhealthy thought distortion.
It is when we make predictions and have false beliefs based on only one or two experiences.
This can take many forms and have harmful impact on us as individuals as well as communities when overgeneralization is applied to groups of people.
For example, we engage with our teenager which results in arguing and eventually someone yelling.
If we were to overgeneralize it we may come to the conclusion that we are a bad parent and we will never relate to our kids.
If you really feel this, then you could feel disappointment, shame and hopelessness.
Further still, if your core belief changed to reflect this distortion you would not put efforts into connecting with your kids furthering the disconnect and relationship gap.
Then your prediction would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Your own thoughts created barriers to our potential.
Overgeneralization often happens when we experience strong emotion and is more likely to influence us to buy-in on an inaccurate belief.
This doesn’t always have to be a negative experience or emotion.
For example, this can be seen in gambling. If you won big with a set of numbers, the overgeneralization belief can be seen as having “lucky” numbers no matter how often they lose.
The belief that the situation is an “inevitable pattern” can cause you to feel hopeless as there is an assumed lack of control in the situation. That no matter what you do there is no way to improve.
Luckily, there are some simple steps you can do to develop more balanced thinking.
You can ask yourself a series of questions to investigate the validity of the thoughts and beliefs.
- What is the evidence for this prediction?
- Based on the current facts, do you think everyone would draw the same conclusion?
- What would a friend say?
- If a friend was experiencing this, would you tell a friend what you are telling yourself?
- If not, why not?
- What are the cost-benefits of this prediction, is it worth it to be so attached to this way of thinking?
Consider alternate ways of thinking or reframing the situation.
Although when we overgeneralize and apply the belief broadly we are actually hyper-focused on the very few or micro experience/emotion that we had.
Reframing is like zooming out to consider the whole experience and picture.
For example, if we messed up when speaking publicly and felt shame and embarrassment, we then focus on these feelings and apply the belief that we are terrible public speakers.
By reframing, we zoom out and consider other information.
Perhaps you had multiple demands that week and you didn’t have enough time to be well prepared, you are fighting a cold or sickness, prior to speaking you had a distracting conversation or bad news, etc.
Reframing looks at the whole picture and puts the experience in context, which prevents the distorted thoughts to take hold and influence the development of limiting and harmful beliefs.
What experience have you had that has developed into a limiting overgeneralize belief?
Take some time to reflect on how these have impacted your beliefs of yourself and those around you.
If this thought is costing you more than you are gaining, develop more effective, valid ways of reacting to the situation.
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