Overgeneralising and jumping to conclusions are two negative thinking patterns that plague a lot of people. Overgeneralising happens when you make generalisations based on poor evidence, and it usually involves applying stats from a small sample size to a larger population. Jumping to conclusions happens when you reach conclusions without having all the necessary facts in front of you.
We’re prone to these negative ways of thinking because we dislike uncertainty to the point that we attempt to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know, even when we don’t have the necessary information to do so. We also tend to think like this because jumping to conclusions and generalising saves time as it’s easier to quickly jump to a conclusion and generalise than it is to take the time to dig through all the facts and reach a more accurate conclusion. We crave certainty so much that sometimes we form broad conclusions based on the little relevant knowledge we have because we gravitate towards what exerts less effort, especially when we’re under the influence of negative emotions.
Before you make assumptions that lead you to jump to conclusions and generalise, ask yourself some questions. First, ask yourself why you’re jumping to conclusions or generalising. Are you trying to save yourself some time? Are you afraid of something? You’ll often find that you’re perceiving what you fear will be true instead of what’s actually proven to be true. Are you recognising a certain pattern from prior experiences? We often generalise and jump to conclusions when we’re trying to recognise patterns, which makes sense because that’s how we’re wired for survival as we rely on past experiences to protect ourselves.
It’s important for you to recognise when you’re jumping to conclusions and generalising, so be able to take a step back and look at what you know is true and what you aren’t sure about. Understand that sometimes your way of thinking is biased due to your unique upbringing and prior experiences that have been reinforced to the point that generalising thoughts have become automatic to you. Consider the source(s) of your information, and be able to remind yourself, ‘I know this is true, but I’m not so sure about this part.’ or be able to say that, ‘I feel like this is the case, but I can’t say for absolute certain that it is.’ Remember, there’s no shame in not knowing everything right away, and in many cases it’s better for you to sit back and wait for more facts to come your way. So look at what you have evidence for, and take note of where evidence is missing.
Remember that ‘majority’ doesn’t mean ‘everybody’ or ‘everything’. Although you might be tempted to play the odds and make an assumption because you have a good chance of being right because your prior experiences indicate so, you still don’t know for sure that you are. Ask yourself, ‘How do I know this? What proof do I have?’
Once you’re able to recognise your tendencies to jump to conclusions and overgeneralise, you’ll be able to fix your unhelpful thinking patterns. So remember to take the time to gather more information and to do your due diligence before you form your conclusion. Unless you’re actually in immediate danger of something, allow yourself to be curious and to take the time to investigate further.
Matthew Buckley is an Organisational Psychologist. He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2010, and received his master’s degree in Organisational Psychology with a concentration in Conflict Management from the University of New Haven in 2015. His main areas of interest include career counselling, conflict management, emotional intelligence, employee retention, leadership and management, morale and motivation, personnel selection and recruitment, and self-promotion.