2 Ways To Stop Yourself From Jumping To Hasty Conclusions

Not everyone was born to be a fortune teller. Here's how to stop yourself from acting like one.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 01, 2024

The "jumping to conclusions" bias refers to making decisions or forming opinions without sufficient evidence. People tend to do so by "mind reading"—assuming what others think, or by engaging in "fortune telling," where they predict negative future outcomes without evidence. For instance, one might wrongly assume a colleague is upset because of a late email reply or predict the failure of an upcoming presentation due to a minor rehearsal hiccup.

These tendencies can lead to misunderstandings, poor decision-making, strained relationships and unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Here are two effective methods to stop jumping to conclusions, according to research.

1. Practice Mindful Decision-Making

To avoid jumping to conclusions and hasty decision-making, patience is key. Mindfulness fosters patience for monitoring your thoughts and enhances inner awareness, facilitating more intentional decision-making in the face of uncertainty.

By gathering more information and reflecting on a situation, you can make more informed and accurate judgments and prevent impulsive responses.

A 2019 study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology highlights the vital role of mindfulness in conjunction with critical thinking for maintaining healthy cognitive functioning. Researchers found that without mindfulness, critical thinking may inadvertently create psychological distress and fuel cognitive distortions.

Before making a decision, take a moment to set a clear intention for the outcome you desire. Evaluate how your decision or response in this moment aligns with your long-term goals, values and the person you want to be. This self-reflection helps you respond mindfully, rather than automatically reacting to a situation.

2. Practice Challenging Your Thoughts

Research suggests that jumping to conclusions helps individuals navigate uncertain situations quickly. However, while this may be beneficial in some scenarios, it often leads to inaccurate judgments and poor interpersonal outcomes. You can begin changing your inner narrative by identifying unhelpful thought patterns and then challenging their validity.

A study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that positive thinking can decrease the tendency to jump to conclusions. By consistently practicing positive thinking, you can replace negative thought patterns with more positive ones, enhancing your decision-making skills and your well-being.

The next time you come across a situation where you assume the worst, seek alternate explanations. For instance:

  • When someone cuts you off while driving, it's easy to assume they're rude, a lawbreaker and a nuisance to society. However, consider other possibilities—perhaps they're late for an important event or rushing to the hospital due to a family emergency. While it may not justify their behavior, it can help you balance your frustration with understanding.
  • If your partner is late to meet you and their phone is off, it's natural to assume the worst—that there's been an accident or that they are cheating on you. However, consider other possibilities such as them being stuck at work or in traffic with a dead phone, or, possibly, them having lost their phone and being unable to contact you at the moment.

It's easy to judge others or worry and jump to conclusions in such scenarios but taking a moment to consider all possibilities and separating facts from opinions can help you reach more reasonable conclusions.

One popular exercise used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to spot cognitive distortions is keeping a "thought journal" where you write about daily events with your exact thoughts, feelings and reactions and reflect on them.

If you find yourself making unwarranted assumptions, take a moment to pause and write down the triggering situation, for instance, "I gave a presentation today and there was no feedback."

If you habitually jump to conclusions, you might immediately think "I probably did a terrible job and everyone was nice enough not to say anything." As a result, you may end up feeling sadness, anxiety and disappointment, without knowing if anything actually went wrong.

However, if you choose to ask yourself whether you have sufficient evidence to support your assumptions and if there might be a more helpful explanation, you may instead think "maybe there was no time afterwards for people to let me know what they thought. I may have done perfectly well and I'm sure someone will let me know if there are any areas for improvement."

This exercise helps spot instances of mind reading, ruminating or fortune telling and encourages you to gradually change your thinking patterns. With practice, it is possible to foster the healthier, more balanced and compassionate inner narrative that you deserve to hear.

Do you fast forward your way to making big decisions? Take the Intuitive Decision Style Scale to learn more.

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