“Stinking Thinking” Must Go!

Eliminate "Stinking Thinking" image. Stinking thinking has to go is an article by Andrew D Pope.

“Stinking Thinking” is a great expression. It’s a super-memorable term and it’s also something you need to be continuously watchful for.

Stinking thinking is like rust.

It never sleeps.

It creeps quietly and effectively under the surface and under the radar.

Desperate to remain undetected, it will often flatter you to deceive you.

Like rust, if left unchecked, stinking thinking will eventually weaken you and could ultimately destroy you.

This article looks at the overall concept of stinking thinking and the many benefits of working to eliminate it from your life whenever and wherever you find it.

BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this, I have included one at the end of this article.

What is “Stinking Thinking”?

Albert Ellis (September 27, 1913 – July 24, 2007) was an influential American psychologist who coined the phrase “stinking thinking.”

He used this term to explain a tendency of people to involve themselves in unproductive thoughts.

For example, if you always say, “I am a failure” you will suffer and approach life from a failure-based perspective.

This is an identity-level statement because it speaks directly to you and your qualities as a person.

An identity-level statement such as, “I am a failure,” can have a negative impact on your mindset.

It can make you believe that you will fail, attract bad experiences, or think poorly of yourself.

It’s important to challenge thoughts like these and cultivate a positive self-image.

Stinking thinking and the mind-body connection

Yin Yang symbol with mind/body connection emphasis. STinking thinking affects our behaviour and vice versa.

We humans have a thing called the mind-body connection. It is stronger in some more than others, but we all have it to some degree.

Think about this.

It means that what you think affects how you feel and vice versa.

It works on positives as well as negatives by the way.

If you feel bad, your thinking is bad. Likewise, if you think bad, you feel bad.

If you feel good, your thinking is good. Again, if you think good, you feel good.

Three types of stinking thinking plus antidotes to get you started

These three examples are in no set order of importance.

I will produce a whole series of in-depth articles on these, and many more, stinking thinking types.

Polarised thinking

This is an “all or nothing” way of thinking. For example, “This has to be perfect or it’s not worth doing at all.”

This is classic stinking thinking.

There is no nuance here. It is a binary approach. Other options or positions are closed to you. Perfection is an impossible myth by the way, so this mindset sets you up for failure right from the start.

When you notice yourself using this kind of language, or holding this kind of mindset, take a mental step back and re-evaluate the situation.

I’m a fan of pen and paper brainstorming. I force myself to write down as many possibilities (good, bad or neutral) as I can think of.

I can always generate at least one additional and alternate idea, which automatically disrupts the original binary narrative.

Give it a go or come up with your own disruption technique.

Mind reading

Mind reading is a form of stinking thinking in which we believe we can definitively know what someone else is thinking. It is a very sketchy approach because it is often based on a limited range, or even a single piece, of information.

For example, you may think, “My boss didn’t speak to me when they walked past me this morning. I must have done something wrong. They must really hate me.”

Here’s a newsflash. You cannot read anyone’s mind. No one can.

Break the faulty analytical chain by asking a few simple questions then decide on a course of action to test out your new ideas.

I would ask myself some simple questions along the lines of:

  • What else might make my boss neglect to speak to me?
  • Can I do anything to find out the real reason?
  • Can I do anything more positive than worrying in this situation?
  • Can I help?

If you answer these questions honestly, you’ll find the negative pattern of your stinking thinking breaks down quickly. The extreme conclusion you formed will likely be invalid.


This is a very pernicious form of stinking thinking.

Let’s say you drop something, a cup of tea for example, at some point in the day. How likely are you to call yourself negative names? The answer is very likely.

This is a very easy thing to do to ourselves. It can become a deeply ingrained habit if left unchecked.

These are identity level accusations, and they can wear you down over time. You can then start to believe your own negative labels. Your negativity toward yourself will increase. Not good.

Whenever you catch yourself falling into this trap, one solution is to robustly challenge the label and replace it with a better one.

For example, if you spill some tea, it simply means you spilled some tea. You are someone who had an accident with a cup of liquid. It happens. You are likely just a human in a hurry.

Stop at that point because no more labels are required.

The stinking thinking list is a long list

There are many other kinds of stinking thinking. I would also include cognitive and heuristic biases as being forms of stinking thinking. Do some research of your own. Forewarned is forearmed.

I won’t try to list them all here but look out for other articles down the line, as I will be covering as many as I can.

A general approach to eliminate your own stinking thinking

The plan is to disrupt and restructure the near automatic and often habitual stinking thinking thought processes.

For me, the overall solution pattern for dealing with stinking thinking in almost all its forms comes down to this:

General approach to tackling stinking thinking. Observe, Stop, Analyse, Reframe, Proceed.

Observe – Constantly monitor your thoughts and emotions for “stinkiness.”

Stop – Halt your current thought process immediately if you have identified it as potential stinking thinking.

Analyse – This is the questioning phase. Ask yourself some searching questions and answer honestly.

Reframe – Alter or replace your thinking with something better or more useful.

Proceed – Move forward confidently with your new thoughts, information or mindset.

Then rinse and repeat.

With time and practice you will replace old negative thinking habits with new positive ones.

Look out for stinking thinking in others

Generally, the best way to detect stinking thinking in others is through the language they use.

Start to pay close attention to the language used by those around you. Monitor their emotional behaviours too.

Their stinking thinking may only be impacting them, but it could have an impact on you too.

If any of your friends, spouse, family, boss or co-workers for example, are in stinking thinking mode, that could definitely impact you.

Make constant “stinking thinking” vigilance your default position

The first pillar of emotional intelligence is self-awareness.

You must therefore be on the lookout for stinking thinking in all its guises.

The second pillar of Emotional Intelligence kicks in with self-regulation.

Once you are aware of you negative thinking and/or behaviour, you can take corrective action.

Eliminating stinking thinking from your life is certainly an ongoing battle.

Sticking to your task will greatly improve your emotional intelligence and your self-confidence.

That is all for this one

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you found value in it, subscribe to the blog. Also join my newsletter community. Get exclusive content, news and, just occasionally, some irresistible offers. It all comes with my no BS and zero pushy sales guarantee.

In the meantime, you might also like to check out these related articles:

Monitor Your Emotions

“Project You”

Self-awareness & EI

Self-regulation & EI

Perfection is a Myth

PS Do you want to maximise your emotional self-control? Get my super-useful Rapid Emotional State Management Technique audio file. It’s FREE so you can download it and start to learn to manage your emotional states with confidence. You’ll also join my self-confidence building newsletter community. In the unlikely event that you don’t like it, an unsubscribe option is available.

PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.