How to Identify and Challenge Irrational Thinking


One of the hallmarks of mental health issues like anxiety and depression are rigid, irrational thought patterns. Oftentimes, clients do not realize their thinking is rigid or irrational, so these patterns are reinforced over and over again until someone draws their attention to them, and helps the person understand that their thoughts are irrational and problematic.

When clients with rigid thought patterns enter therapy, counselors try to help them develop more flexible and realistic lenses through which to see the world. This process takes a great deal of time and conscious effort, and can be frustrating to many clients. If you believe you may struggle with rigid irrational thought patterns, here are some suggestions to get you started on becoming more flexible and realistic.

Identify Your Rigid Thinking

There are several questions you can ask yourself to help identify if you have rigid thought patterns. These questions include, “Is this thinking black and white?,” “Is this thinking all or nothing?” and “Is this thinking either or?” Some examples of rigid thought patterns that can be identified with these questions include: “If I don’t pass this test, I’m dropping out of school” or “If my friends can’t hang out with me tonight, it means they don’t like me.” Words like always, must, or should can help identify rigid thought patterns. For example, the statement “I should always follow my meal plan” is a rigid thought because it does not allow for the flexibility of a friend asking you to lunch last minute.

Challenge Your Rigid Thinking

Once you become aware of your rigid thought patterns, you can begin to challenge them. Try to adapt your “black and white” thinking to become gray. Using our example from before, “If my friends can’t hang out with me tonight, it means they don’t like me” becomes “I’ll be disappointed if my friends can’t hang out with me tonight, but I know they still like me because they called me yesterday and asked to hang out next week”. When forming more flexible thought patterns, use the real-life experience as evidence to challenge your irrational thinking.

Speak With A Therapist

It can be very difficult to identify and challenge rigid thought patterns on your own because they are often so deeply ingrained. Working with a therapist can help you improve your ability to shed your rigid thoughts and develop more flexible ways of thinking. A therapist can help you identify your irrational and rigid patterns and help you use as evidence to challenge them. If you are interested in working with a therapist to develop a healthier and more flexible way of thinking, contact The Light Program today.