Reshape Your Thinking Series: The Ratio Of Red To Green Lights
Have you ever caught yourself stopped at a red light and then thinking “I always get caught at every red light!”? Although all of us have most likely overgeneralised our situations at one point or another, for some people, constant negative overgeneralisation can really begin to affect their emotional wellbeing. To find out more about this pattern of thinking and how to overcome it, keep reading.
“I had one high reading yesterday. I’m the worst diabetes patient ever.”
The ability to generalise information can be useful. For example, generalisation allows young children to learn quickly and identify potential threats more readily.1 However, if left to run wild, excessive generalisation, or overgeneralisation, can become problematic.
Overgeneralisation is defined by the American Psychological Association as a thought process “in which an individual views a single event as an invariable rule”; or, “the process of extending something beyond the circumstances to which it actually applies.”2
It’s not uncommon to make little overgeneralisations without thinking (surely you got at least one green light). However, overgeneralisation as a persistently distorted way of thinking can be associated with depression and anxiety.1,3 In addition to this, extreme overgeneralisation is simply not an accurate way of viewing either yourself or the world, and may lead to inappropriate reactions or behaviours.1 One relationship breakup does not mean you will forever be out of luck in love.
When living with type 1 diabetes, you may be at a greater risk of experiencing depression or anxiety,4 which can cause your mind to slip into some negative overgeneralising habits. Examples of overgeneralisations include:
- “I ate too much at lunch today. I’m terrible at self-control in everything.”
- “I forgot to check my insulin supplies. I think I have dementia.”
- “I missed my endocrinologist appointment yesterday. Yes, I definitely have dementia.”
Living this way doesn’t sound fun, does it?
3 Ways to Overcome Overgeneralisation
If you find yourself thinking “my blood glucose management is horrendous” when in fact today’s reading was the first one over-target in months, you may well be experiencing overgeneralisation. Here are 3 strategies you can try to overcome your tendency to overgeneralise.
1. Recognise that it’s happening.
Realising that you’re overgeneralising is probably the most important step in being able to overcome it. If you are able to recognise that thought flitting through your mind is an inaccurate overgeneralisation (for example, you feel that you’re terrible at managing your blood glucose levels), then you will be more able to take a step back and correct it (you have had some challenges with your blood glucose recently but you didn’t have a single out-of-range reading last month). If you find yourself using words like “always” or “never”, this can be a sign that you have a tendency to apply overgeneralisations to your circumstances.
2. Be mindful.
Practising mindfulness and trying to be deliberately aware of your thoughts can be challenging, but it will help you to identify unhealthy thought patterns, including overgeneralisation. For example, it can be useful to realise that you have a tendency to think in overgeneralised terms specifically when it comes to your relationships or your diabetes management, or maybe the vast majority of your thoughts sway that way. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you’ll be able to more easily address them.
3. Fact check yourself.
Does one high blood glucose reading mean you’re a bad person? If you’ve had a few over-target readings lately, you may be tempted to truly believe that it does. However, try to be grounded and realistic with yourself. Logically, you know this is untrue. Have a go at problem solving the reason why your readings may have been high recently. Perhaps you might want to ask your diabetes healthcare team or family if they have any ideas. It can also help to rephrase your thinking; take out that “never” or “always” and replace it with “infrequently” or “often”. Unless you truly have missed 100 per cent of your appointments with your diabetes healthcare team, you don’t “always” forget, you just “often” do (and you probably don’t have dementia even if you did miss 99 per cent of them).
If you think overgeneralisation is a real challenge for you, speak to your diabetes healthcare team about what they might recommend to help you move past it.
Remember that it can take some time and practice to rewire your thoughts into more healthy patterns. If you find yourself overgeneralising again, you’ve not “ruined your thoughts for all eternity”, it’s just “a small slip-up”. You can get back up again!
- McMakin D, Kimbler A, Tustison N, Pettit J, Mattfeld A. Negative Overgeneralization is Associated with Pattern Completion in Peripubertal Youth. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2021; nsab089.
- American Psychological Association. Overgeneralisation. https://dictionary.apa.org/. 2020. Available at: https://dictionary.apa.org/overgeneralization. (Accessed March 2022).
- Rnic K, Dozois DJ, Martin RA. Cognitive Distortions, Humour Styles, and Depression. Eur J Psychol. 2016;12(3):348-362.
- AlRuthia Y, Alwhaibi M, Almalag H, Almosabhi L, Almuhaya M, et al. The relationship between trust in primary healthcare providers among patients with diabetes and levels of depression and anxiety. PLOS ONE. 2020;15(9): e0239035.