Irrational Thoughts 101: What Are They and How Do You Stop Them

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Has it happened that something you wished for didn’t happen but went South? Did irrational thoughts like you were the unluckiest person on Earth, nothing goes right for me, etc., plague you? Did you start blaming yourself for anything and everything that didn’t materialize?

Irrational thoughts are not wrong. They are part of being human. It is your social conditioning that drives you toward them even at the slightest of inconveniences. 

When you are distressed, your perceptions of what is happening around you are distorted. Your mind tricks you at such times, and you interpret events differently than usual. This could either be because of your belief system or social conditioning. 


Irrational Thoughts 101: What Are They and How Do You Stop Them

Has someone been critical of you, and you feel something is wrong? 

Well, Well, Well…. Most of us fall into this rabbit hole of irrational thoughts. 

I am a classic case of overthinking about tiny things. This overthinking gives rise to multiple irrational thoughts. Overthinking is termed a silent killer and helps no one. 

It is rightly said that Humans have monkey minds that are very restless and wander in thoughtland all the time. Yet, we are the most intelligent creatures and can take charge of ourselves. 

You will ask me how that is possible. The answer is to move from being a thinker to a doer.

Let’s dive deep into what irrational thoughts are and what measures we can take to stop them.


What are Irrational Thoughts?

When you hear the term irrational, it does sound very judgemental. However, it is far from being judgemental. It is a clinical term. 

Irrational thoughts distort reality. They are illogical and are based on distorted perceptions. They stop rational thinking and significantly impact your emotions and, in turn, your behavior. 

Let’s simplify it further! 

An irrational thought is:

  • not based on any kind of evidence 
  • mostly based on assumptions
  • based on positive or negative experiences of  the past
  • fear of the unknown about the future
  • maybe without any specific context

Everyone deals with irrational thoughts in varying quantities from time to time. Your fingerprints are unique to you and so are your thoughts. Every person thinks differently. 

Let’s understand this better with an example. Some of us, like me, dwell in the past, while others are worried about the future.

Pessimism and resistance to change often go hand in hand with irrational thinking. 

What are the Causes of Your Irrational Thoughts?

Do irrational thoughts significantly impact your day-to-day life? Are they hampering your ability to accomplish your goals? Are these thought patterns not standard? 

Irrational thought is your brain’s coping mechanism. It is most often experienced either before an important event or when you encounter a situation that resembles a similar occurrence.

Irrational thoughts are often the brain’s attempt to simplify a complex information set. They can develop suddenly or over some time. 

These cognitive distortions stem from faulty logic during moments of emotional stress when emotions are intense.

Irrational thoughts can be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Self Esteem issues
  • Exposure to chaotic life
  • Traumatic experiences / Embarrassing Mistakes 
  • Being bullied by others
  • Being raised in an irrational family
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, depression, substance abuse issues, etc.

Do Irrational Thoughts Stem From Imagination?

Imagination is a powerful cognitive tool with which you can create mental images and ideas and find possibilities. Imagination is essential for most creative ideas. Although it can produce unpleasant ideas, these can easily be dismissed or replaced with inspiring thoughts.  

Contrary to popular belief, irrational thoughts do not stem from imagination. Even though unconscious memories of pain can lead the mind to hyper-alert, it is a defense mechanism to prevent you from getting hurt again. 

While irrational thoughts can be overwhelming for most people, they can be managed with the proper support.

What are Different Types of Irrational Thoughts?

Irrational thought can be categorized into different types:

1. Filtering

In this type of irrational thought, the person filters out the good and focuses only on what is bad. 

For Example:

If you ask someone out on a date, the person rejects the request. Your conclusion is, “I’m not good enough to go out on a date with anyone”. 

Don’t you think there could be other reasons the person turned down the request? It could be that the person is in a committed relationship, doesn’t want to date right now, etc. 


2. Overgeneralizing

Overgeneralizing is the type of irrational thought where one incident is applied to everything or everyone.

For Example:

During an appraisal, you are not promoted. You generalize it to say, “ I am sure I will never be promoted”. 

This negative self-talk only fuels your irrational thoughts and amplifies them for the worst. 


3. Fortune Telling

You make predictions without any basis. There aren’t any crystal balls that can be used to predict the future.

For Example:

Today, Taiwan recorded a 7.4-magnitude earthquake on the Richter Scale. You predict this will be the end of the world. 


4. Catastrophic Thinking

You assume something worse is going to happen. For everything, you ask the “What If” question.

For Example:

An airplane crashed due to inclement weather. When it is time to fly, you are engulfed with the catastrophic thought that your flight will meet the same fate. Your thoughts spiral into what if there is turbulence, bad weather, etc. 

What are Some of the Irrational Thoughts Successful People Deal With?

Most people feel that successful people are immune to irrational thoughts. However, even successful people deal with it too. The truth is that they train their mind to overlook their irrational thoughts and do not allow them to take control of their actions. 

They become successful despite irrational thoughts, which are another obstacle in their goal-setting journey.  

Let’s some of the common misconceptions people have about successful people and their irrational thoughts: 


1. Successful People Don’t Make Mistakes

One classic example of a mistake is Steve Jobs’s rejection of the early versions of the iPod and iPhone. He later realized his mistake and saw the potential in both these devices.

This mistake by Steve Jobs proves that mistakes happen, but it is essential to learn from your mistakes. It is important to make the necessary changes to turn them into opportunities.


2. Successful People Aren’t Criticized

When I am criticized, I start feeling something is wrong with me. However, I am now learning to look at criticism differently. 

Instead of taking criticism personally, successful people take it as a different opinion. They validate it if they need to change or let it stay the other person’s opinion. 


3. Don’t Take Risks to Not Fail

This thought of associating risk with failure is prevalent. However, the biggest failure is not taking risks at all. 

Being courageous enough to take risks opens doors to many new perspectives which often results in giving you a better outcome than the usual “non-risk-taking” approach. 

In today’s ever-changing landscape in all aspects of life, successful people know that taking the plunge will continue to keep them thriving. 


4. How Can Everything Go Right?

Here’s what you need to understand: nothing you do can ever be 100% right or 100% wrong. It is essential to take the necessary actions to rectify what is not going right.

For example, you can download books from Amazon on your Kindle app or Kindle device. In 2009, Amazon discovered two books in its repository that it didn’t have proper rights to. Amazon deleted the books and refunded customers the cost of the books. 

This incident shows minor hiccups can occur even when things are going great. The key is to fix these obstacles accordingly and continue with your journey. 


5. Unworthy of Success

Such a thought stems from low self-esteem or from childhood trauma. We need to shake off this thought and work towards our individual growth, as every person is worthy of success. 

We will again turn towards Steve Jobs. In 1985, the product made by his company, Macintosh, failed, and Microsoft overshadowed Apple. We wouldn’t have Apple products if Steve Jobs had to think of being unworthy of success.

How to Deal with Irrational Thoughts? 

Being human leaves no choice but to embrace your imperfections. Each one of us has our idiosyncrasies. 

If anyone expects you always to be perfect, they are not doing you any good. Suc expectations only feed your insecurities and make you prey for their own conventional limitations both physically and mentally. 

Thus, here are 5 steps you can take to deal with your irrational thoughts and not let them control you: 


1. Identify Your Irrational Thoughts

The human brain produces approximately 6,000 thoughts in a day. These thoughts can be rational and helpful or completely bizarre and irrational.

Let’s run a quick check on your thoughts. Shall we? 

  • Is the thought helpful?
  • If yes, move to the next thought
  • If no, say the thought aloud
  • Hear the thought again to see if it supports a negative thought


2. Stop Your Irrational Thoughts

Give a simple STOP command consciously whenever an irrational thought occurs. Divert your mind to something that you enjoy doing.

While a negative thought causes fear and anxiety, a positive thought will help in reducing your stress and anxiety. Whenever I get consumed by my negative thoughts, I like to switch it up by indulging in a conversation with my brother or playing with my niece and nephew. It helps in diverting my mind from the harmful negativity and focusing on my blessing in life. 

Changing your difficult thoughts doesn’t happen overnight, but practicing positive thinking habits regularly will help change the thinking process.


3. Developing Self Awareness

Your conditioning is the basis of irrational thoughts. More often than not, in our subconscious mind, we run mind patterns that are usually repetitive, not functional, and repetitive.

Self-awareness is the key to handling irrational thoughts better. To simplify, we must become aware of our irrational thoughts, accept them, categorize them, and give them a conscious run in our minds.


4. Mindfulness

When you do not give a mindful thought, you react to the stimulus, whereas with a conscious thought, you respond to the stimulus. 

As Stephen Covey says, “Between stimulus and response, you have the freedom to choose”. And you can only make that choice when you know what you want. Self-awareness develops your ability to respond to the stimulus, which makes all the difference. 

Meditation and journaling are powerful tools that can help you develop mindfulness and self-awareness. Keep a journal to jot down the thoughts as they occur. Write down positive thoughts to help correct the negative thoughts. 


5. Replace Your Irrational Thoughts with Facts

Research to see if your facts validate your thoughts. 

In most cases, your irrational thoughts will be far from facts. This is the right time to replace them with facts. 

What is the Treatment for Irrational Thoughts?

Therapy is the most common treatment for irrational thoughts. In most cases, therapy brings symptoms under control. 

If the condition is severe and there are other related disorders like depression, anxiety, etc. then medication shall be prescribed to the patients. 

You may seek help from someone who knows you. It could be a family member, a friend, or even a co-worker. Confide in people you trust. You can gather their opinion on the thoughts you are facing. For all you know, they could also be battling something similar in varying degrees. 

Another option is to look for a support group to make social connections. Others in the group will be able to understand your condition and lend appropriate support to your condition. These support groups are usually in a formal environment and guided by a qualified professional. 

There are many online counseling options now available. Choose the one that is most convenient for you. Online therapy also works for introverts, who find opening up in front of others challenging. 


Which Therapy is Recommended for Irrational Thoughts?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is recommended for people who are dealing with irrational thoughts. It helps in shifting your thought patterns to enable them to manage their irrational thoughts and reduce frequency.  

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps in developing healthier and more positive ways of interpreting events. 

Your healthcare professional will refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist, depending on the condition. 

Therapists also help to understand and uncover the underlying reason for irrational thoughts, such as specific fears and concerns. Irrational thoughts are often deeply rooted in beliefs about ourselves and our world. 

A professional can analyze your life’s incidents and tell you the simple changes that can quickly relieve your symptoms. They work towards helping you learn coping mechanisms, interpret and interrupt irrational thoughts, develop optimism, and improve self-esteem. 


When is the Right Time for Therapy?

The right time for therapy is when you feel that these thoughts are bothering you. However,  when these thoughts disrupt your daily life and impair your ability to carry out your work, you should not waste any time and seek help as soon as possible. 

When the symptoms get worse, you are not able to bounce back from those thoughts; life, in general, feels overwhelming, or when you are persistently engulfed in numbness, sadness, anger, or anxiety, it is time you should seek professional help. 


Irrational thoughts can disrupt your daily lives and lead to isolation. They certainly defy logic, reasoning, and empirical evidence. However, this condition can be treated. 

The first step is to accept the condition. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and isolating yourself, meet people and indulge yourself in new conversations.  

Often talking to people will help you release and divert negative thoughts. Conversing with others also brings a new perspective to the situation. 

The most important thing is to not feel bad about the condition. When these thoughts interfere with your happiness, seek help.