10 differences between rational and irrational thoughts

All thoughts are not created equal.

Some thoughts can lead you to the life of your dreams, others will sink you in a cycle of despair, confusion and frustration.

Here’s how to filter out the thoughts that are useful from those that really make no sense.

10 differences between rational and irrational thoughts

1) Rational thoughts are based on evidence

Rational thoughts are based on evidence and proven hypotheses.

For example, thinking “I will get burned if I touch that hot stove burner again while it’s on,” is a rational thought.

There is no reason to believe you won’t be burned by touching the same stove burner that previously burned you.

Rational thoughts measure experiences and interactions in order to determine reasonable courses of action and decision-making.

They also use probability to reach conclusions and deduction.

For example, “I have seen many people get fit going to the gym every day and working out. Therefore, if I do the same thing I am likely to get fit.”

Rational thoughts can be very useful in deciding what to do in life and why.

2) Irrational thoughts are based on emotion

Irrational thoughts tend to be based on emotion. They may dupe us at times, however, because they often mix this emotion with self-serving or selective evidence.

Using the above examples, we can see how this works.

For example, instead of thinking “I will get burned if I touch that hot stove again while it’s on,” the irrational thought might say “I will get burned again if I touch any stoves in the future. F*ck stoves and cooking. I’m never going near one again.”

While it’s true that you did get burned, it’s not logical to believe stove burners are always turned on or will always burn you.

Or, for example, take the rational thought: “I have seen many people get fit going to the gym every day and working out. Therefore, if I do the same thing I am likely to get fit.”

The irrational thought, in contrast, would be: “I have seen many people get fit going to the gym every day and working out. Therefore, if I do the same I deserve to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger and seduce every woman or man I meet.”

Wait, what?

Watch out for the irrational mind, it can drag you into some very misleading mindsets and expectations.

3) Irrational thoughts aren’t ‘bad,’ they are just less reliable

Irrational thoughts aren’t necessarily “bad,” they are simply much less reliable.

For example you might have the irrational thought that if you move to the Dominican Republic you’ll meet an amazing girl and get married because the ones you saw on an ad for a resort look smoking hot and nice.

There is no real evidence that this will be your actual experience, and more like a fantasy.

However, after arriving you might happen to meet a beautiful woman and get married, thereby seemingly confirming your irrational thought’s value.

The point is that irrational thoughts are not always wrong or incorrect, they are simply more of a wild card with no particular reason to invest in them or take action based on them.

Indeed, you could move to the Dominican and get robbed by a guy on a motorbike and break your arm while also contracting syphilis in an unrelated incident.

Just remember not to trust irrational thoughts all the time.

4) Sorting out the diamonds from the trash

Rational thoughts aren’t always “good” either. You can have the rational thought that money is helpful and therefore dedicate your life to making money to such an extent that you die of a stress-induced heart attack at 45.

The key to making sense of your rational and irrational thoughts is to organize them into a value system and objective that you have for your life.

For far too many of us, that’s a tall order.

I know that in my case, I’ve often felt trapped in life and unclear which direction to go, with my thoughts buzzing around in mindless confusion.

So how can you overcome this feeling of being “stuck in a rut”?

Well, you need more than just willpower, that’s for sure.

I learned about this from Life Journal, created by the highly-successful life coach and teacher Jeanette Brown.

You see, willpower only takes us so far…the key to transforming your life into something you’re passionate and enthusiastic about takes perseverance, a shift in mindset, and effective goal setting.

And while this might sound like a mighty task to undertake, thanks to Jeanette’s guidance, it’s been easier to do than I could have ever imagined.

Click here to learn more about Life Journal.

Now, you may wonder what makes Jeanette’s course different from all the other personal development programs out there.

It all comes down to one thing:

Jeanette isn’t interested in being your life coach.

Instead, she wants YOU to take the reins in creating the life you’ve always dreamt of having.

So if you’re ready to stop dreaming and start living your best life, a life created on your terms, one which fulfills and satisfies you, don’t hesitate to check out Life Journal.

Here’s the link once again.

5) Rational thoughts tend to create motivation

Rational thoughts tend to create motivation, because they have clear structure and evidence.

For example, thinking that you are getting overweight and therefore should start exercising more is a motivational thought.

As for the thought of becoming fat and the idea that this is subjective, it’s actually not, since Body Mass Index (BMI) can factually determine who is overweight or not.

6) Irrational thoughts tend to create anxiety

An irrational thought tends to create anxiety.

“We will all die, therefore I will probably die very soon,” is an example of an irrational thought. The first part is correct, the second part has no grounding in reality, nor quantifiable definition for “soon.”

This month? In ten years? In 20 years? Define soon…

Irrational thoughts can be real killers, because they get us very worried about things and stick us in a state of fear and confusion.

Another example would be worrying that you have many different illnesses without evidence (hypochondria). In this case, irrational and paranoid thoughts have reached the stage of mental illness.

You worry so much about technically possible ailments that you have no time left to live.


7) Irrational thinking is centered around problems

Irrational thinking is often centered around problems:

What if I get fired?

What if she dumps me?

What if I develop a rare skin condition that makes others look away when they see me and dooms me to be alone for life?

These are all possible! (Unless you don’t have a job or partner, then you can’t technically get fired or dumped…)

As I mentioned earlier, rational thinking tends to be oriented to finding solutions and being motivated by a problem/

Irrational thinking tends to be endless troubleshooting and worsening problems that may not even yet exist.

The point is that it’s just not rational to spend your life wondering what if.

It’s much more rational to spend your time wondering about what is.

8) Rational are purpose-oriented

Irrational thoughts tend to be directly linked to wish fulfillment.

For example, I just want to get rich, therefore I should answer this email promising me the princely sum of $400,000 if I simply send in my financial details and sign a few forms.

Rational thoughts are more selective and purpose-oriented. If I get the same e-mail I will judge whether it fits with my overall goal (personal integrity, wealth and relationship happiness) and then look at whether it is trustworthy.

Soon I will notice the many spelling mistakes and suspicious motive of the sender, opting to delete the e-mail instead of responding and foregoing a clearly fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme.

If you don’t know your purpose beyond a superficial objective (“get rich,” for example) it’s much easier to fall for frauds and be duped.


What would you say if I asked you what your purpose is?

It’s a hard question!

And there are far too many people trying to tell you it will just “come to you” and to focus on “raising your vibrations” or finding some vague kind of inner peace.

Self-help gurus are out there preying on people’s insecurities to make money and selling them on techniques which really don’t work for achieving your dreams.



Sage burning ceremonies with some vaguely indigenous chanting music in the background.

Hit pause.

The truth is that visualization and positive vibes won’t bring you closer to your dreams, and they can actually drag you backwards into wasting your life on a fantasy.

But it’s hard to sort between rational and irrational thoughts and really decide where you want to go in life when you’re being hit with so many different claims.

Far too many people out there seek to profit from manipulating our own irrational thoughts and emotion-based responses.

You can end up trying so hard and not finding the answers you need that your life and dreams begin to feel hopeless.

You want solutions, but all you’re being told is to create a perfect utopia inside your own mind. It doesn’t work.

So let’s go back to basics:

Before you can experience a real change, you need to really know your purpose.

I learned about the power of finding your purpose from watching Ideapod co-founder Justin Brown’s video on the hidden trap of improving yourself.

Justin used to be addicted to the self-help industry and New Age gurus just like me. They sold him on ineffective visualization and positive thinking techniques.

Four years ago, he traveled to Brazil to meet the renowned shaman Rudá Iandê, for a different perspective.

Rudá taught him a life-changing new way to find your purpose and use it to transform your life.

After watching the video, I also discovered and understood my purpose in life and it’s no exaggeration to say it was a turning point in my life.

I can honestly say that this new way of finding success by finding your purpose actually helped me to find my purpose and begin knowing which of my thoughts were most helpful for working to achieve that purpose.

Watch the free video here.

9) Rational thoughts judge others minimally

pexels polina zimmerman 3958821 10 differences between rational and irrational thoughts

Rational thoughts do make judgments, but they don’t do so recklessly.

For example, if you find that a coworker continually tries to take credit for your work, you may rationally think they are an untrustworthy person that you shouldn’t share your work progress with.

They may be a wonderful individual at home caring for their wife and two small kids, but at work you have made a rational judgment about not wanting to let them in on what you’re working on.

Generally, however, the rational mind will withhold judgments until presented with individual evidence.

As such, rational thinking tends to be much more respectful of people on a person-to-person basis.

10) Irrational thoughts judge others maximally

I tend to be a very judgmental person. There are reasons for it, of course, principally that I often feel like I don’t fit in among people I meet and pre-established social groups.

I therefore tend to paint with broad strokes: group A or B isn’t for me, and I only like group C.

Then I meet somebody I connect with in group A and push down the cognitive dissonance.

It’s just not rational to judge entire groups of people, particularly on outer identity labels.

You will find it much more useful to judge people on a person-by-person basis relating to their behavior rather than your surface impressions of them.

Don’t beat yourself up

We all have irrational thoughts and suspicious, unrealistic tendencies at times.

The crucial thing is not to follow these trains of thought where they lead.

Don’t beat yourself up about having them; we all do.

The more that you discern and differentiate between empowering, realistic thoughts and useless, irrational thoughts, the more you will begin achieving your goals and seeing a clear path forward.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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