Personal Development

7 Self-Sabotaging Effects of Over-Rationalization

mental gymnastics

Learn about the harmful effects of mental gymnastics and over-rationalization on our lives. Let’s examine the ways this pattern of thinking can be detrimental, and discover helpful tips to break free from this cycle.

Mental gymnastics, or complex reasoning, is a process of using convoluted or excessively rationalized thinking patterns to support a particular belief or behavior.

While mental gymnastics can sometimes be helpful in critical thinking and problem-solving, it can also have harmful consequences when used excessively or inappropriately.

In this article, we will explore the 7 ways that mental gymnastics can hurt us and how to avoid these negative outcomes.

Overthinking and Rumination

One of the most significant ways that mental gymnastics can hurt us is by leading to overthinking and rumination.

When individuals engage in complex reasoning to justify a belief or behavior, they may become stuck in a cycle of over-analysis and self-doubt. This can lead to excessive worrying, anxiety, and stress, which can negatively impact both mental and physical health.

To avoid this outcome, it is important to recognize when we are engaging in mental gymnastics and to take a step back from our thoughts. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help individuals cultivate a sense of presence and awareness, which can reduce the tendency towards overthinking and rumination.

Cognitive Biases and Selective Attention

Mental gymnastics can also lead to cognitive biases or selective attention, where individuals only focus on information that supports their belief or behavior while ignoring contradictory evidence.

This can lead to distorted thinking patterns and confirmation bias, where individuals only seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs.

To avoid this outcome, it is important to actively seek out diverse perspectives and information when faced with a complex issue. By considering a variety of factors and viewpoints, individuals can develop a more well-rounded understanding of the situation and avoid cognitive biases.

Avoiding Responsibility

Another way that mental gymnastics can hurt us is by providing a way to avoid taking responsibility for our actions.

When individuals engage in complex reasoning to justify a belief or behavior, they may use this as a way to shift blame onto others or external factors, rather than taking responsibility for their own actions and accepting the role they played in the situation.

To avoid this outcome, it is important to take responsibility for our own choices and behaviors. It can hurt to admit you made a mistake, but that is the only way you can learn and put your best foot forward.

Mental gymnastics are often used to protect our ego and self esteem when deep-down we know we were wrong. Accept it and improve.

Negative Self-Talk

Mental gymnastics can also increase negative self-talk, especially when individuals engage in excessive self-criticism and self-doubt.

When we already have a negative view of ourselves, we will use complex reasoning to reinforce that perspective. We find ourselves thinking, “I’m dumb for reasons X, Y, and Z” or “I’m a bad person for reasons X, Y, and Z.”

Negative thinking runs rampant – and it turns into a cycle of rumination which is a common factor in depression and anxiety disorders. As a result, we create a self-narrative that reinforces a negative self-image and erodes self-esteem.

To avoid this outcome, it is important to recognize when we are engaging in negative self-talk and to challenge negative thoughts with rationality and critical thinking. By also practicing self-compassion we learn to be less judgmental of ourselves.

Accept that everyone makes mistakes and we don’t need to endlessly beat ourselves up over every single one.

Interpersonal Conflict

Mental gymnastics can also lead to interpersonal conflict by interfering with communication, relationships, and problem-solving abilities.

During heated arguments our minds run wild trying to say anything to “win” the argument, rather than trying to better understand each other.

It’s hard to compromise or find solutions when you’re too busy justifying your actions and mistakes. We use convoluted thinking to defend ourselves, or dismiss others perspectives, only leading to more misunderstandings and conflict.

It’s essential to be honest with yourself if you want to build healthy and constructive relationships.

Actions speak louder than words, so keep words to a minimum. Be sincere when you apologize or admit you were wrong, but don’t get caught in the trap of over-explaining yourself to look better. Just be better.

Hindering Personal Growth

Another way that mental gymnastics can hurt us is by hindering personal growth and development.

The more we rationalize our current situation in life, the more resistant we become to change and new experiences. Humans are surprisingly good at finding ways to ignore advice when we need it the most. It’s usually easier to justify the status quo than to make a real effort to change.

When it comes to our goals and ambitions, we often spend most of our mental energy coming up with excuses and reasons we can’t do something, but what if we used it to make positive changes instead?

To avoid this outcome, it’s important to recognize how mental gymnastics are holding you back. Try to find family and friends who will call you out on your bullshit when you are in excuse-mode.

Embrace a growth mindset and recognize that we are always learning, growing, and evolving, even if we don’t always realize it.

Hurting Your Happiness

In many ways, mental gymnastics can block us from happiness and enjoying life more.

Thinking isn’t enough to find happiness all by itself. If you’re stuck trying to find the right “happy thoughts,” you’ll always be one step away from experiencing real fulfillment in life. You need to be productive and act on your values to build real purpose and meaning.

Positive thinking won’t amount to anything if it doesn’t lead to positive action, such as exercise, socializing, volunteering, or pursuing hobbies and interests.

Excessive thinking can also distract you from what really matters. Following your intuition or gut instinct can lead to better choices and decision-making rather than a carefully calculated “costs vs. benefits” analysis.

If you are painfully searching for reasons to do something, it could be because deep-down you know it’s not the right decision. This doesn’t mean active reflection or contemplation is always wrong, but be aware of when it turns into an exercise in mental gymnastics.

Often we feel a certain way and then try to justify it with thinking afterwards.


In conclusion, mental gymnastics can have harmful consequences when used excessively or inappropriately. By recognizing the negative outcomes of mental gymnastics and taking steps to avoid them, individuals can cultivate a more balanced and healthy way of thinking and living.

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