Jumping to conclusions: using mental shortcuts

We have thousands of decisions to make everyday - what to eat, how to dress, where to sit etc. Our brains rely on mental shortcuts (called heuristics) to speed up our decision making. What happens when these shortcuts lead us to a dead-end?

The bulk of the time these shortcuts benefit us particularly when we are making a series of minor decisions that aren’t particularly important e.g., the blue suit or the black one, heels or flats, tie or no tie. In some cases it can cause us to jump to a rather major conclusion prematurely and without evidence. For example, a person jumping to conclusions might assume that their colleague hates them because they did not say hello that morning. Let’s look at the problems this can cause, how you can recognise this pattern of behaviour and actively work to change it.

What does it look like?

  • Mis-interpreting a text message, thinking your friend is annoyed at you, when they were really just busy and their mind was elsewhere.
  • Accusing your partner of some failing that turned out to be unfair criticism.
  • Making decisions based on partial information - it can be easy to jump to conclusions when reviewing evidence that supports some pre-existing bias or erroneous belief.

What problems does it cause?

  • You assume that others are negatively judging you which impacts your self-esteem.
  • You may see others in a negative light, and have difficulty forming positive relationships.
  • You may disregard logic, reaching a conclusion that is insufficiently supported, due to it being based on insufficient information

What can you do?

By learning about why we jump to conclusions and how to recognise this behaviour you’ve already taken steps towards reducing this common bias

  • Stop and think before you act
  • Try to put yourself in another person’s shoes - is there another explanation for their behaviour? Are you being fair to them?  
  • Catch yourself jumping to conclusions: Ask yourself: what evidence do I have in support of and against this conclusion?
  • Use your chnnl journal to voice your thoughts and assumptions, then review and consider whether you might have jumped to that conclusion prematurely or without sufficient evidence.

In summary
Jumping to conclusions is very normal and helpful most of the time. When it becomes unhelpful is when your heuristics are applied incorrectly, when you’re biased or make a major decision from incomplete information. If you’re having trouble developing strong and positive relationships with others, or often becoming frustrated with their actions, it’s helpful to suspend judgement and take time to get to know them - people are complex beings!

Information and resources provided by chnnl is general in nature. It may not be relevant to individual circumstances, is intended as a support tool only and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have specific questions or concerns please seek advice from a qualified professional.