7 Thought Patterns That May Be Holding You Back From Your Full Potential

Written by Michael Dow, Psy.D

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Many thought patterns hold us back from living up to our full potential. These limiting negative thoughts can result in anxiety, depression, or fear if not recognized and transformed. Michael Dow, Psy.D., psychotherapist, New York Times best-selling author, and author of the new book Your Subconscious Brain Can Change Your Life, helps people harness the power of their subconscious to transform their negative thoughts and take hold of their lives. In this excerpt from his new book, Dow shares the seven common thought patterns of the conscious mind that keep us trapped. By recognizing these patterns, we may have a better grasp of when they arise and can gain tools to quiet them before they pull us in.

Many of these pitfall thought patterns correspond with excess beta brain waves or an inability to move easily from one brain wave to another. These patterns are associated with depression, anxiety, fear, and living below your potential. I invite you to begin by considering which ones are holding you back in your everyday life.

Most people tend to struggle with a few of these seven pitfall thought patterns in particular. People with anxious brains will often identify with paralysis by analysis (also known as rumination) and pessimism (also known as worst-case scenario or catastrophic thinking). If you struggle with confidence or depression, perhaps personalization is holding you back. Introverts tend to wrestle with psychic thinking since they often find it difficult to verbalize feelings—and, in doing so, they expect others to read their minds. Here are the seven pitfall thought patterns and an example of how they may sound in a person's mind. As you read this list, notice if any of them sound familiar to you:

1. Paralysis by analysis

This type of thinking involves stewing and ruminating in anxious thoughts, preventing productive action from occurring. For example, "I wonder why Alex got that account and not me. Does my boss like him better than me? I wonder if it's because of that mistake I made last month on that account. My boss said she wasn't mad, but maybe she was and just didn't want to tell me. She did give me a funny look this morning. I should be focusing on that other project right now, but I just can't stop thinking about this..."

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2. Permanence

This thought pattern falsely assumes that just because something is a problem now, it will always be a problem. Mood-congruent recall is a phenomenon in the brain that lights up similarly charged memories. If this charge is negative, it will create the illusion that you've always been sad or anxious and, therefore, will always be sad or anxious in the future. For example, "I just can't move on from losing my cat Mittens. I know it's been a year, but I still cry every time I think of her. It just feels like I'm never going to get over this. I'm never going to be a happy person ever again."

3. Personalization

This mindset is when you tend to blame yourself if things don't go your way, even when that result has absolutely nothing to do with you. Dirty looks from a co-worker are sometimes just the result of him having a really bad day—not because he dislikes you. Other times, you put all the blame on yourself when there are multiple people, as well as circumstances, involved in the unfavorable outcome. While there may be things you'd like to have done differently, it does take two to tango. Disagreements, divorces, and disasters are rarely entirely one person's fault. For example, "I sent out three resumes and didn't get any calls. What's wrong with me?"

4. Pervasiveness

This perspective is the difference between seeing a negative event as something that is global versus something specific. If pervasiveness takes over, your thinking becomes global—and something bad in one area of your life has now spread to all areas of your life. For example, "I can't believe I weighed that much at the doctor's appointment today. That just put me in a really bad mood. I feel like giving up on everything now. I was going to work on the new business I was planning to start, but I don't feel like it anymore. And as for tonight's plans, I'm going to text my friends and cancel that dinner. I'm just going to stay home and order a pizza."

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5. Pessimism

This type of thinking considers the worst-case, catastrophic scenario. It dwells in the possible, not the probable. For example, "If my daughter doesn't have a child soon, I've read she's going to be considered a high-risk pregnancy. I'm worried that she's going to die during childbirth if she waits until she's 30. If she waits any longer, she'll have to take hormones. I've read that can give women cancer. My daughter is going to die young! Oh, gosh...this is so terrible."

6. Polarization

This mindset has a binary, black-or-white pattern. The words always or never are frequently found in your thoughts and your words. For example, "If I fall off my healthy eating regimen at any point during the day, my entire day is totally ruined!"

7. Psychic thinking

This type of thinking either assumes that the other person is psychic—so he or she has to read your mind without you verbalizing what you need—or vice versa. When you assume you are psychic, even though the other person hasn't verbalized something, you think you know what he or she is thinking. And, of course, you assume the worst. For example, "Why did my husband just do that? Doesn't he know I had a hard day? It would have been nice for him to cook dinner tonight. Fine! I'll just do it myself...and when he asks me what's wrong, I'll just say, 'Nothing!'"

Based on excerpts from Your Subconscious Brain Can Change Your Life by Michael Dow, Psy.D., with the permission of Hay House Inc. Copyright © 2019.

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