I failed that math test – Well, there goes my A. My child’s teacher wants to talk with me after school – What have they done now? I’m new to this school – Everyone is going to dislike me. A colleague never returned my call – They must not like or respect me. Kids and teens have done it, as have parents and grandparents, teachers and coaches – in fact, at some point in our lives we have all made the mistake of jumping to conclusions about something. Yet one more thought error or cognitive distortion where our mind puts a spin on the events we see, and attaches a not-so-objective explanation of what we are experiencing.
Jumping to conclusions can be defined as making a negative interpretation about something even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support that conclusion. Rather than letting the evidence bring us to a logical conclusion, we set our sights on a conclusion (often negative), and then look for evidence to back it up, often ignoring evidence to the contrary. It’s a close cousin to other thought errors we have mentioned previously since conclusion-jumpers often fall prey to mind reading (where they believe that they know the true intentions of others without talking to them) and fortune telling (predicting how things will turn out in the future and believing these predictions to be true).
So why do we jump to conclusions, especially negative ones, so quickly? Well, we do a lot of things without an iota of thought, like breathing and blinking, and sometimes we jump or leap to conclusions in an attempt to make meaning of what we observe or experience – because humans are meaning-making creatures. Problems arise though because we tend to pick interpretations that fit our own existing view of the world, and thus if jumping to conclusions becomes a chronic problem we can get stuck in our own viewpoint, even when it doesn’t fit with reality.
However, we owe it to ourselves and our kids and family members and colleagues to press the pause button before we jump to conclusions, and think about other potential explanations besides the one we automatically leapt to. Consider the following tips:
• Focus on directly observable and tangible facts and events as these anchor us to reality and keep our subjectivity subdued
• Entertain different possibilities and interpretations
• Resist unnecessary future predictions – you probably have enough going on in the present without worrying about or trying to control the future
• Accept uncertainty and be content with not knowing what people are thinking or what might happen
• Ask questions of others to help confirm or reject your interpretation
So, maybe that math test was harder or you didn’t study as much. Or, maybe the teacher wants to ask you to volunteer or thank you for raising such a clear thinking child. Perhaps the other kids will think you are exciting and interesting because you are new. And perhaps the phone was broken or your colleague was busy.
Eryn Wicker (M.A., R.C.C.) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Chilliwack, BC.