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Fooling Ourselves: How Our Anxious Minds Play Pranks

Updated: Apr 2

A person struggling with anxiety and wanting to learn reframing skills.

Today is April 1st, or April Fools’ Day, which brings to mind images of silly pranks or cheap laughs. I’m guessing you either love this day, don’t think twice about it, or possibly despise it. To be honest, I don’t really love April Fools’ Day because I usually find myself somewhat on edge anticipating that something shocking or out of the ordinary is going to happen. Sure, harmless pranks can be funny and produce a good laugh, which can definitely boost your mood, but at the end of the day does anyone truly enjoy being pranked?

What happens when you find yourself being pranked or tricked by your own mind? What does that even mean? How can your own mind prank itself? Well, if you’ve ever had a thought that made you feel uneasy, worried, or anxious without any real need, that my friend was a prank. Your mind is amazingly efficient and likes to do its job, which is to process information and then do something with it. It can store it for later, make meaning out of it, or produce a reaction in the form of a thought. The consequence of your mind’s efficiency is that it often takes shortcuts! Therefore, every thought your mind produces isn’t always true, accurate, or based in reality.

The familiar thoughts your mind churns out often create an emotional reaction in you that doesn’t always match the reality of the situation. For example, let’s say you receive mild constructive feedback from your boss and your mind automatically produces a thought that “I suck at everything and I’m never good enough!” This thought is likely associated with previous experiences of hearing or being made to feel that you suck at everything. It has little to do with the present situation of receiving non-threatening feedback from your boss.

This thought came from your own mind so you are likely going to believe it is true. The impact is that you end up feeling like a failure, and become anxious about needing to be perfect at work in order to be good enough. This emotional response may lead you to work extra hours, say yes to everything, and burn yourself out, taking a major toll on your mental and emotional well-being.

This is how your mind pranks you. It produces thoughts that aren’t always rational or grounded in reality. The good news is, you can actually change these thought patterns over time. The first step is to simply develop an awareness of the types of pranks your mind likes to play on you. Once you know what tricks to look out for, you can begin to challenge and reframe your thoughts to be more rational and reduce the emotional and behavioral impact that these thoughts have on you.

Keep reading to find out all the various ways your mind likes to play tricks on you. You can also learn how to take a step back from these unhelpful thoughts and see them for what they are, just thoughts, and not the ultimate truth.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Your Mind

The idea that your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all constantly influencing each other is based on the theory of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Researchers have identified a collection of specific ways that your mind likes to prank you, which are called cognitive distortions, automatic/hot thoughts, or irrational thoughts.

As you read through the description of each cognitive distortion below, notice which ones you resonate with or experience frequently. Can you figure out which cognitive distortion is present in the example above? – “I suck at everything and I’m never good enough!”

Types of Cognitive Distortions

Magnification and Minimization

  • Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. You might believe your own achievements are unimportant or that your mistakes are excessively important.


  • Seeing only the worst possible outcome of a situation.


  • Making broad interpretations from a single or few events.

  • “I felt awkward during my job interview. I am always so awkward.

Magical thinking

  • The belief that thoughts, actions, or emotions influence unrelated situations.

  • “If I hadn’t hoped something bad would happen to him, he wouldn’t have gotten into an accident.


  • The belief that you are responsible for events outside of your control.

  • “My mom is always upset. She would be fine if I did more to help her.”

Jumping to conclusions

  • Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence.

  • Mind reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence. “She wouldn’t go on a date with me. She probably thinks I’m ugly.”

  • Fortune telling: The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without adequate evidence.

Emotional reasoning

  • The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are.

  • “I feel like a bad friend, therefore I must be a bad friend.”

Disqualifying the positive

  • Recognizing only the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive.

  • You might receive many compliments on an evaluation, but focus on the single piece of negative feedback.

“Should” statements

  • The belief that things should be a certain way.

  • “I should always be perfect.”

All-or-nothing thinking

  • Thinking in absolutes such as “always,” “never,” or “every.”

  • “I never do a good enough job on anything.”

Defusing, Challenging, and Reframing Cognitive Distortions

A person struggling with their mind playing tricks on them.

The moment you become aware of one of these distorted thoughts, you have the opportunity to unhook from it. A type of behavioral therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refers to this process as cognitive defusion. Rather than staying fused with your thoughts and believing them to be true, you can take a step back and simply observe your thoughts from a place of mindful curiosity.

Here are a few ways to practice cognitive defusion. It can be helpful to try this with your more neutral thoughts to start so that in moments when you’re having a challenging thought it can feel easier to access this skill.

  • Practice saying to yourself: I’m having the thought that… I never do a good enough job on anything.

  • Next take it a step further by saying: I’m noticing that I am having the thought… that I never do a good enough job on anything.

  • Try to distill the thought down to one or a few words such as “I’m never enough.”

  • To reduce the emotional impact of the thought we can take the meaning out of the words by singing the thought to a tune such as Happy Birthday. “I’m never enough, I’m never enough, I’m never enough, I’m never enough.”

  • You can also try repeating the word(s) as fast as you can for 45 seconds. After this time the words will likely lose their meaning, which will reduce your emotional response.

After you have noticed and unhooked from the unhelpful thought, how can you disarm it to reduce its negative impact? First, you can start by challenging the thought rather than accepting it as true. Try asking yourself these questions:

  • What evidence do I have that this thought is true?

  • What evidence do I have that this thought is not completely accurate or true?

  • When have I had this thought before, and was it helpful to believe it then?

  • How does this thought make me feel?

  • What does it make me want to do?

  • Are these feelings and actions aligned with how I would prefer to feel and behave in this situation?

After challenging your thought, you can practice reframing, a process through which you create an alternative, more rational thought. Read below for some useful questions to ask yourself along with some examples of reframed thoughts.

  • What is a more rational or alternative thought in response to this situation?

  • If a friend were in this situation, what would I think or tell them?

  • When I reframe this thought to be more rational, how does it affect my emotions and behaviors?


Should Statement:

  • I should stop being lazy and exercise today.

Reframed Thought:

  • I would prefer to exercise today but I’m not feeling up for it. If I don’t exercise today, I can exercise tomorrow.

Emotional Reasoning:

  • I feel alone and uncared for because my partner does not want to spend time with me and instead is working overtime.

Reframed thought:

  • My partner is working overtime because they are busy at work, not because they do not care for me. When they are not busy they spend time with me.


  • I failed this exam, I feel like such a failure. I don’t think I am smart enough to take this class, I will probably just fail it.

Reframed thought:

  • I didn’t pass this one exam, but in the past, I have always found a way to come back from a failed exam. I will work harder and try again the next time.

Resources for Reframing Cognitive Distortions

It might be helpful to use a thought log, which is a tool to track your cognitive distortions and practice reframing them. With a log you can look back to notice patterns in your thoughts. Are there certain times, situations, or people that trigger your cognitive distortions?

You can also check out this free app called FearTools, which has a thought log feature so you can track your thoughts wherever and whenever they arise.

Power Over Pranks

A person struggling with anxiety and wanting to get involved in therapy.

While your mind is quite extraordinary in how it allows you to experience the world, relate to others, and know yourself, sometimes it can feel like your own worst enemy. The more you try to resist, avoid, or push away challenging thoughts, the more they will continue to show up.

However, as you develop awareness of these cognitive distortions and intentionally challenge and reframe the thoughts, you might notice that they become less intense and frequent over time. In my work with clients and in my own life, I have found it extremely beneficial to develop an awareness of how our thoughts impact us in different ways and learn to not take every thought so seriously.

As you begin to work with these difficult thoughts in order to get your mind to stop playing so many pranks on you, I invite you to do so with a sense of compassion. The idea of challenging and reframing your thoughts doesn’t need to feel aggressive or rooted in judgment. It’s simply observing the way your mind doesn’t always get it right and correcting the course so that you can think, feel, and act how YOU want to in any given situation.

If this feels daunting to tackle all on your own, you might consider individual counseling or group therapy to get help and support from a trained professional and community of peers. It can be validating to hear from others who struggle with similar unhelpful thoughts and realize you’re not the only one whose mind likes to play pranks. Schedule a free 20-minute consultation below to find an individual counselor or group that can help you create the changes you would like to see in your life!

How We Can Help

If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

A therapist for Catalyss Counseling

Juliette Brown is a student intern and a provider for the affordable counseling program at Catalyss Counseling. She works with adults with depression, anxiety, and grief to find new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting so they can experience greater joy and authenticity in their everyday lives. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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