Jumping to Conclusions: Why It Happens and How to Stop It
We make judgments each day and sometimes these judgments are based on our beliefs and past experiences instead of factual information.
Jumping to conclusions is a negative thinking pattern that may cause people to feel bad about themselves and less motivated. Making unwarranted assumptions can also lead to poor decisions that ultimately affect you, your relationships, and others.
This article explains the concept of jumping to conclusions, the two common ways people do it, its consequences, examples, and ways to overcome it.
What Does Jumping to Conclusions Mean?
Jumping to conclusions is one of the errors in thinking where you think you know how others feel about you and you make predictions about the future — in other words, mind-reading and fortune-telling.
Some other ways people jump to conclusions may include labeling (forming negative conclusions about others based on one event) and making casual assumptions.
The fact is that these thinking errors affect everyone from time to time. After all, our beliefs are influenced by our unique backgrounds, experiences, and current knowledge. These things cause us to think a certain way[*].
Yet, the difference is that these distorted thoughts happen more frequently and severely in individuals with anxiety disorders. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobia assumes that they’re always being watched and judged negatively by others, and because of that, their performance suffers[*].
Why Do People Jump to Conclusions?
It’s easy to get caught up in making assumptions when you’re anxious, depressed, physically ill, or feeling emotionally overwhelmed[*]. Sometimes, a cognitive distortion can also indicate an underlying mental illness that you might not be aware of yet, which requires the help of a psychiatrist.
Here are common ways people jump to conclusions:
This is when you claim to know what others are thinking, including their motivations based on their mood, body language, or response. For instance, concluding that your teacher thinks you’re lazy because of his tone when you arrived late to class.
This is when you’re being quick to predict a negative outcome without even considering the possibility that the end is going to be good. For individuals who’ve experienced a lot of disappointments in life, it makes sense for them to think negatively about the future as a means of protecting themselves.
Aside from mind-reading and fortune-telling, people who jump to conclusions do so based on intuition, observations, or a single incident that caused them to form certain rules.
Detrimental Effects of Jumping to Conclusions
Making hasty judgments can increase your likelihood of making poor decisions and acting in such a way that puts others at risk. Study shows that cognitive distortions, in general, can make a person more vulnerable to depression. They also worsen depression symptoms, such as constant sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness[*].
Examples of Jumping to Conclusions
Breaking the habit of unwarranted assumptions starts by knowing when it happens in your day to day life. Here are some examples:
- Your friend hasn’t replied to your text message since yesterday, so you assume that she must be mad at you. (Mind-reading)
- Paul didn’t win the spelling bee contest. Because of this experience, he believes that every contest he participates in will result in failure. (Fortune-telling)
- Annie is having lunch alone. Now, she thinks that the other kids are making fun at her. (Mind-reading)
How to Stop Jumping to Conclusions
Changing this thought pattern requires conscious effort from the person experiencing it. Below are five tips that will help:
1. Try to recall the times you’ve jumped to conclusions
Think about the times when you assumed the worst from people or circumstances without first gathering all the facts. This can include your everyday encounters at home or in school.
2. Keep a thought diary
In the case of making unwarranted assumptions, you could, for example, record a triggering situation that happened, such as “Someone cut me off while driving.” Beside that situation, write the automatic thought you had. For someone with a habit of jumping to conclusions, they’ll probably assume that “The driver is a jerk.”
The feelings and emotions associated with this experience might include “anxious,” “angry,” and “disappointed.”
3. Learn to differentiate between fact and opinion
Remember that cognitive distortions aren’t based on reality. With that in mind, strive to identify whether your thought about something or someone is:
- An opinion, which reflects your personal views and feelings towards it.
- A fact, which can be verified through further research and experimentation.
One telltale sign that you’re likely forming opinions is using words like, “I believe,” “I feel,” “In my opinion,” and overgeneralization words (such as always, never, everybody, everything, and nothing).
4. Come up with alternative thoughts
This strategy is called cognitive restructuring, which essentially involves replacing a negative assumption with a more balanced thought. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I’m an outcast,” you can generate this alternative thought based on facts: “My best friend is sick today and she’s absent in school, which is why I’m sitting alone at lunch for now.”
Try answering this Changing Negative Thoughts to Positive Thoughts Worksheet that will help you practice cognitive restructuring.
5. Practice coping strategies for anxiety
Since anxiety and other mental health problems predispose you to having negatively biased thoughts — it’s important to always keep your mental health in check. Mental Health Center Kids offers these resources for stress management and anxiety:
- Anxiety Coping Skills for Teens Handout
- Coping Statements for Anxiety Handout
- Coping With Stress Poster
How to Deal with People Who Jump to Conclusions
Is your child, teenager, or someone you know jumping to conclusions? As a parent, friend, teacher, or social worker, you can help them become aware of this cognitive distortion in their lives by encouraging them to explore evidence that supports or discounts their current belief. Typical responses, such as saying, “It’s not a big deal” and “Stop worrying” — or even pressuring them to do something they’re not ready for, won’t help.
When to Seek Professional Help
Your problem doesn’t have to be “serious enough” or “extreme” before you can consult a therapist. In fact, experiencing situations that cause negative emotions — such as bullying in school, losing a pet, or problems in the family — are already good reasons to see a mental health professional. The right professional can help you explore your emotions and gain perspective on your problems, allowing you to feel better.
The Bottom Line
Breaking the cognitive distortion of jumping to conclusions gets easier over time with self-awareness and cognitive therapy techniques. The five tips I’ve discussed above should serve as a good starting point, but be sure to work with a mental health expert if you feel that you cannot tame your thoughts on your own.
- Rao S, Asha MR, Rao J et al. The biochemistry of belief. 2009 October-December
- National Institute of Mental Health. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness
- Cicetti F. Can Negative Thoughts Be Stopped? 2013 May 30
- Rnic K, Dozois D, Martin R. Cognitive Distortions, Humor Styles, and Depression. 2016 August 19