What is Overgeneralisation?
Put simply, ‘overgeneralisation’ is the act of taking a conclusion from one instance and applying it to every similar situation, even (and especially) where it doesn’t apply. When you face a particular outcome from a situation and then assume that outcome to be universal to many other situations, you are overgeneralising.
Overgeneralised statements usually refer to things in the extreme. You will find that these sentences aren’t moderate or tempered. They usually carry the words ‘never’ or ‘always’ or other absolutes, leaving no room for exceptions.
“He didn’t do well at class today. He will never be a good artist.”
“Look at what I did! I always mess things up!”
We often overgeneralise when interacting with other:
“That boy from ABC-Town just letched at my daughter! All people from ABC-Town are mannerless!”
But worse, we even overgeneralise with respect to our own attributes:
“I failed this test. I guess I’m just stupid all around.”
“Look at what I did! I always mess things up!”
In this post, it is these self-defeating thoughts that I will focus on. By the end of this piece, you should have a general understanding of how overgeneralisation affects you and how to avoid it.
Why Should I Worry About Overgeneralisation?
Overgeneralisation is a kind of cognitive distortion. It means that you are not thinking rationally. If you are not thinking rationally, you are likelier to miss good decisions.
For example, your business partner, who is from X community, does you wrong. You start to overgeneralise and believe that every person from X community is a crook. Because of this, you refuse to do business with people from X, and consequently lose out on some highly lucrative opportunities. You took the outcome of one situation and, without reason, applied it to many situations, thus harming only yourself.
When overgeneralising about ourselves, the outcomes are equally if not more harmful. For example, you’ve lost a dance competition. You overgeneralise and begin to believe that you are just not a good dancer and cannot win any competition. Thus, your lack of confidence leads you to perform poorly, and you don’t win the next competition. Again, you took the outcome of one situation and, without reason, applied it to many situations, thus harming only yourself.
You took the outcome of one situation and applied it to many situations
When we overgeneralise in our daily lives, it begins to affect our happiness. It is a limiting belief and is thus counterproductive to our personal and professional growth and development. It causes emotional pain and distress and can have serious consequences on your self-esteem.
“I am a failure.”
“I can’t do anything right.”
You may even become complacent with not putting in effort, believing that you are a victim of fate.
“The universe has always been harsh on me.”
“I am just not meant to succeed.”
This pushes you to focus on what is wrong with your situation instead of on what you can make right about it. Because your mind has already assumed a certain outcome, it is unlikely that you will have the motivation to work towards achieving a different, more desirable outcome. Why would your mind waste effort working towards something you don’t think will change?
What to do When I Find Myself Overgeneralisation?
1. Ask Yourself About the Facts. Now that you know you overgeneralise and tend to ignore facts, push yourself to acknowledge them.
For example, you can begin by asking yourself questions such as “How is my current situation different from the previous one?”, “Is there a possibility the outcome will be different this time? Why?”, “Have others faced different outcomes in my situation?”, etc.
No one is judging the conversations you have with yourself, so be truthful!
Ask Yourself About the Facts
2. Remind Yourself That One Incident In Life Doesn’t Dictate The Rest Of It.
Human beings spend countless moments doing countless things right up until death. You and others will have faced too many challenges, tided over too many hurdles for a handful of failures to affect your existence on a grander scheme of things.
Thus, remember that people are not a singular page in their stories – they are the whole volume. Cut others and yourself some well-deserved slack!
3. Remind Yourself That It Is Never Too Late To Start Working On Changes you want to make in your life. Your mistakes do not need to be stamped into your personality.
Instead of what’s going wrong, think about how you can make it right. Passivity will only lead to continued disappointment. Do things to change your circumstances!
4. Look at Yourself from a Third-Person’s Perspective.
This works for a whole range of issues. Instead of looking at your situation as yourself, try looking at it as if someone else is experiencing it. Pick someone dear to you – a parent, a partner, a close friend.
What would you tell them if they were in your position? Would you assess the circumstances any differently? What would you advise them to do?
So here you have it. My 4 tips to overcoming overgeneralisation!
Onward to good things!