By Heather Cherry—
Anxiety is a complex condition. Anxiety does not go away for people with an anxiety disorder and can get worse over time—symptoms can interfere with daily activities. But occasional anxiety is normal and many people worry about health, money, or career challenges.
In most cases, our most significant worry comes not from what’s actually happening but from our perception of what is happening. Thanks to our brain’s innate ability to piece together unrelated stimuli and identify potential threats—a psychological function known as inferring—affords you the ability to extract and understand things others overlook.
Brianna Wiest, author of The Mountain Is You, explains the phenomenon similar to how metabolic body types operate—endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph—in that the original intent of the system helped our ancestors survive but hinders us in modern times. “When you’re very anxious, your brain is taking an unharmful stimulus and extracting meaning or prediction,” Wiest says. “Your brain is in overdrive, working to identify potential harm. The smarter you are, the better you become at this.”
“In the same way that the endomorph’s excellent metabolism works against them, so can the brain. At times, making faulty inferences—when fallacies, biases, and incorrect assumptions are made from valid evidence,” Wiest says.
Faulty inferences tend to follow patterns that can be categorized as logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are arguments that may sound convincing but are based on flawed logic and are invalid. This means what you see, experience, or understand is valid, but the assumptions are either inaccurate or highly unlikely. And taking them at face value can lead you to make poor decisions based on unsound arguments.
For example, your boss requires you to attend a meeting at the last minute without an explanation of its purpose. You assume you’re either being promoted or getting fired. This false dichotomy results from you considering only two options are available when there are likely others you’re unaware of.
Here are a few logical fallacies causing your faulty inferences.
- Hasty generalization (over-generalization): Making a claim based on a limited experience.
- Post hoc ergo propter hoc: A weak causal inference concluding that two events are connected because they happened in a similar timeline.
- False dichotomy: Assuming only two conclusions are valid when there are many more.
- Slippery slope: Predictive fallacy claiming one event will trigger another—even if safeguards exist.
The Challenge Of Faulty Inferences
The problem with faulty inferences is they can be misleading. The Correspondent Inference Theory, developed by Edward Jones and Keith Davis in 1965, suggested people make judgments that a person’s personality matches or corresponds to their behavior.
For example, someone says something nice and you presume they are friendly. “When we try to explain our behavior, we tend to make external attributions, such as situational or environmental features,” says Saul Mcleaod, Ph.D., educator and researcher. “Jones and Davis thought that people pay particular attention to intentional behavior (as opposed to accidental or unthinking behavior).”
Another prominent challenge of faulty inferences is their cause of worry. Worrying about many things is unhelpful and distressing and can affect your emotional and physical health. “Chronic worrying can affect your daily life so much that it may interfere with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance,” says Debra Fulghum Bruce, Ph.D., award-winning medical writer and author. “Many people who worry excessively are so anxiety-ridden that they seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits like overeating or using substances.”
Excessive worry may be impacting your ability to respond to stressful situations. “Worrying does not protect us in the way we think—we cannot beat fear to the finish line,” Wiest says. “It shifts our mindset to expect, seek out, and create worst-case scenarios. Once a crisis occurs, we panic. Had we not premeditated these fears excessively, we wouldn’t be as impacted when they happen, and we could see the situation objectively and act accordingly.”
Correcting Faulty Inferences
The first step to correcting faulty inferences is being self-aware. “Once you realize you’re thinking in a false dichotomy or making hasty generalizations, you stop doing it,” Wiest says.
Training your brain to stop doing it automatically takes time and requires self-directed rewiring, known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself and adapt to change. “When we continue to act similarly, think the same thing, or feel a familiar emotion, we are strengthening old neural pathways,” says clinical psychiatrist Sam Zand. “When you practice a new habit, your brain uses new pathways—the more you engage new pathways, the weaker the old ones become.”
Here’s how you rewire your brain and correct faulty inferences that are holding you back from success.
- Shift the script: If you continue telling yourself the faulty inference, you’ll remain in the same cycle. “If you want to shift your thinking and perception, tell yourself a different story,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a clinical psychologist.
- Focus on reality: Reality testing was devised by Sigmund Freud—a concept in his psychoanalytic theory that analyzes situations and decides whether they are based on facts or hopes and fears. For example, if you are experiencing a hasty generalization, ask yourself, “What are the facts that support this feeling?”
- Practice a new skill: Testing a new hobby or skill can be a great form of self-care. And trying something can stimulate your brain and strengthen neural pathways.
- Mindfully meditate: The practice of mindfulness meditation for a few minutes every day has been proven to boost neuroplasticity.
- Get moving: Research shows that exercise magnifies neuroplasticity—specifically, aerobic exercise contributes to molecular, cellular, and systemic changes in your brain.
Correcting faulty inferences takes time. Give yourself grace, and remember that consistency is key. Like any new habit, one attempt will not stick—but lasting change is likely with diligent repetition.
Heather Cherry is a freelance health and wellness writer and content marketing coach. She helps businesses create strategic, creative, and conversational messages as well build effective content teams. She has been published in Sleepopolis, SELF, Insider, and author of Market Your A$$ Off.
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