9 Ways Thoughts Can Lie To You

February 23rd, 2014 by LaRae Quy

The word “can’t” is probably the only four letter word I never heard in my 24 years as an FBI agent. Agents are well aware that our thoughts can lie, so we trained early not to let negativity impair our ability to analyze a tough case that looked impossible to crack. With enough chipping away, and digging, we searched for answers until all leads were exhausted.

Mistakes -woman on phone

Mental toughness was keeping our thoughts under control as we searched for and found ways to keep moving. The key was a flexible and agile mind that refused to let barriers and adversity define the outcome of a case.

It’s not only FBI cases that need the mental toughness to see success. Everything from business, love, and relationships can become affected by our negativity if we allow it to raise its ugly head.

Les Brown once said that 80% of self-talk is negative, but just because something is different does not mean it is also a threat. If left on their own, out thoughts can lie to us about the challenges ahead because of this negative self-talk. When our thoughts can lie to us, they produce the negativity that can paralyze us.

This means you need to pay more attention to ways your thoughts can lie to you because these are the same thoughts that will keep you from moving ahead in business and life. 

Witnesses are always important in FBI investigations because they are first-hand observations. In the same way, you need to witness your thoughts and observe them so you are in a better position to eliminate their negative influence.

9 ways your thoughts can lie to you:

1. Using the Words “Always” and “Never.”

If you use the words always and never when you’re confronted with an obstacle or barrier, you activate the limbic brain system. This produces emotions like fear and anger. Absolutes like “always” and “never” are rarely correct. 

  • “My children never listen to me.”
  • “I never get recognized for my hard work.”
  • “Everyone always takes advantage of me.”
  • “I always end up on the short end of the deal.”

This is very common thinking, but if you catch yourself thinking in terms of absolutes, stop and make yourself recall times when you can disprove the negative thought.

2. Focusing On the Negative

When your thoughts focus only on the negative, you fail to see the positive around you. Looking for and finding only the negative in your situation will not only make you feel sad, it will prevent you from recognizing your blessings. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing

3. Believing In the Negative

Question your negative feelings; don’t act on them without thinking them through. Since we all have a negativity bias, it’s easier to believe a situation will turn negative than positive. Negative thoughts are like Velcro; they stick. Positive thoughts are like Teflon; they easily fall away. 

4. Predicting the Future

Do not be tempted to predict the worst possible outcome. Many times we think that by predicting a negative outcome it will lessen our disappointment. For example, if you don’t get promoted or get a business loan—or whatever we’re seeking. In fact, all it does is reduce our chances for feeling good about what we’re doing now. 

5. Reading Minds

Don’t waste time assuming what people think about you—you are not a mind reader. We try to guess what others are thinking, it’s usually comes from a negative attitude we have about the person. Instead, learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings before loosing an opportunity or becoming bitter.

 6. Beating Yourself Up with Guilt

Not every emotion we feel is important or rational. When you feel guilty about something, be skeptical. Is the guilt trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior? Or, is it an irrational response to a situation? This is the first step. The key, however, is to realize the mistake and accept that you’re only human. Do not beat yourself up and batter your self-esteem because you’re not perfect.

7. Labeling

When we judge others, we are labeling them. Negative labels are very harmful because when you lump one person with others you’ve never met, you lose the ability to understand people as unique individuals. Labeling and judging others is an outward display of inward inferiority and anger. 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 ESV

8. Personalizing

The actions of other people do not need to have a negative effect on you. If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of what others think and do. Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.

Research suggests that we overestimate how much we are singled out by others, and quite frankly, it’s self-absorbed to live this way. Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? 

9. Blaming

Mental toughness is acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your life. You cannot dodge responsibility for what your life is about. You create the situation you are in and the emotions that flow from those situations. The worst thing you can do is take on the role of victim, make excuses, or blame others. This is a lie we tell ourselves to prevent us from reaching our own success.

As you witness the ways your thoughts can lie to you, remember there are things you can do to diminish their power over you. 

I’ve listed 9 ways your thoughts can lie to you—can you add more?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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16 Responses to “9 Ways Thoughts Can Lie To You”

  1. This article by you is one of my favorites. Three thoughts surface:
    Use writing techniques to control your thinking, such as minimize using first person and past tense.
    Ask yourself questions like can a person be a failure or fail at something,
    We do create our own stress and sometimes that of others, yet without conflict of any kind there might not be anything to learn. Then what would the autodidacts do – see there you go – conflict right there. Number (9) is pivotal to thriving & surviving, and so to is what you say in your interview about “training your brain to break barriers”. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It makes you think, it really does!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Debra! It’s good to hear from you.

      You’ve made my day—showing people how to use their mind to break through barriers is the reason I get up every morning and write 🙂

  2. Lolly Daskal says:

    Fantastic article . Powerful list.

    There are many truth about thoughts: but if we can remember that WE DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE EVERY THOUGHT WE THINK. we will much better off.

    Lead From Within and Follow your heart.

  3. Takis says:

    Excellent post, LaRae. But negativity, sometimes(!!!), may proved a successful strategy (as an agent, operated in difficult situation, you should know, thta negative thoughts, sometimes, may prevent you from doing {“stupid or difficult”} things)! Inspired and well documented post. Thank you for sharing!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I agree, Takis. Read a later post of mine called “9 Ways Negative People Can be Positive Thinkers.” It’s stupid to suppress our negative feelings…the key is to not let them be our dominant ones.

  4. Anita says:

    Excellent article! I wouldn’t change a word and as a writer that doesn’t happen often. 🙂

  5. Terri Klass says:

    Terrific list, LaRae! I think blaming others is such a destructive thing to do and when we do it, we are not holding ourselves accountable.

    I agree there is also an element of feeling victimized when we are always finding fault in what other people do or say. Working with a current organization, we realized that blaming was adding to a lack of transparency and trust in the workplace. It’s a habit that needs to be broken and accountability needs to take its place.

    Thanks for a great post, LaRae!

    • Anita says:

      I agree Terri. It’s been my experience that the things I find most aggravating in others,
      are usually things I’m trying to fix about myself so when I’m tempted to be critical
      I stop and ask myself what I’m not dealing with that make
      me touchy about the situation.

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Great point, Terri. I totally agree with you…blaming is not only negative, it’s destructive.

      The company is lucky to have you working with them to pinpoint these habits!

  6. Alli Polin says:

    I went to return an item at the store this week and they were in the middle of the return and stopped because I didn’t have the original card with me. I turned to the person I was with and said “I should have known. Today is just a bad day.” Clearly, an isolated incident is not a conspiracy but negative thoughts can definitely make it seem like one.

    Excellent points, LaRae! Positivity matters!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I’ve had those days, too. I wonder why I bothered to get out of bed…there are days when things don’t work quite the way we expected them to. The thing that keeps me going is to remember 1) not every day is like that, and 2) the day is probably filled with lots of lessons on patience and confidence that I need to take a closer look at.

  7. Karin Hurt says:

    This is a really great list. The one that saddens me the most is “predict the future.” It’s so sad to have people talk themselves out of possibilities because of their past.

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