What is burnt toast theory and how can it help us reframe life’s inconveniences?

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Feb 2, 2024

What is burnt toast theory and how can it help us reframe life’s inconveniences?

Brought into the spotlight thanks to the therapy side of TikTok, burnt toast theory is the latest in a string of wellbeing buzzwords to flood social media. But could it help us start embracing the positive side of life’s little inconveniences?

Finding fame on the #TherapyTikTok side of the web, the burnt toast theory is simple but effective. In essence, burnt toast theory centres around the idea that each small, everyday inconvenience we experience happens for a bigger reason.

Take something we’ve all experienced: accidentally burning your toast before work. That one little accident has a domino effect on your day, making you five to 10 minutes late. Maybe that means you miss your regular commute time, inadvertently resulting in you avoiding a car accident. Or maybe it means you’re late enough to avoid bumping into your ex getting off of the tube, and instead, you inadvertently meet the real love of your life on that later train.

According to burnt toast theory, by throwing a small inconvenience at us, the universe is saving us from something far more detrimental, or pushing us in a whole new direction we didn’t realise we needed to go. Little changes can have a big impact. 


Monday morning thoughts… shoutout to the internet for sharing this wisdom so passing it along 💖❤️‍🩹 #therapytiktok #advice #anxiousattachment #fyp

♬ original sound - faye

TikTok user offthe__grid explains burnt toast theory

At its core, the burnt toast theory tries to teach that, by choosing to view the world more positively, we can help reduce our anxiety around life’s little mishaps and failures. Through doing this, we can view the positive potential these moments create, even though they are outside of our control.

But why is the burnt toast theory appealing to so many of us? And could it really help us to adopt a more positive mindset?

Many of us experience hypervigilance – a sense of constantly being on edge, worrying about every little detail in life, or overthinking our interactions. This can lead us to feel like we’re constantly worrying, overthinking, or ruminating on things. As Counsellor Jennifer Warwick (MSc Psych, BACP Registered) explains, this emotional hypervigilance can be caused by feelings of anxiety, past trauma, high levels of stress, and a need for perfectionism – much of which can feel like it is outside of our control. 

When we feel like things in our lives are outside of our control, that can be scary and overwhelming. Finding solace in the idea that there is reason behind the things we cannot control can help some people to release these feelings and automatic reactions. Burnt toast theory can be taken as a more updated metaphor for age-old advice: everything happens for a reason. While some of us find this idea to be comforting, for others, it can be less helpful.

Are there any downsides to the burnt toast theory?

Offering similar advice to ‘everything happens for a reason’, some people worry that burnt toast theory may be the latest accidental toxic positivity trend. As Psychotherapist (UKCP Accred) Agnieszka Jacewicz explains, toxic positivity can be dangerous. 

Toxic positivity is the idea that we should always be positive, happy and optimistic, even in difficult or traumatic situations. It suggests that negative emotions, such as sadness, anger or frustration, are unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. The problem with toxic positivity is that it invalidates our genuine emotions and experiences. It can make us feel guilty for feeling anything other than positivity. This can lead to a cycle of shame and self-blame.”

When we put too much pressure on ourselves to only see the positives in life events, we risk trivialising our own experiences – and those of others. We may also find ourselves avoiding fully recognising and acknowledging unsettling or traumatic experiences, as we push to only focus on the ‘good’ that may come from things. Sometimes, it can be healthy to admit that bad things happen – and trying to assign reason may not be helpful. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t still try and practice a positive or growth mindset if that's what is right for you.

Embracing positivity and the impact of a positive mindset

“There are many reasons that make it difficult to produce and hold on to positivity in your mind and attitude, [including] other people’s criticisms influencing you, self-doubt, lacking clear objective in life, lacking self-confidence, being frustrated, [or] lacking flexibility.” MBACP Counsellor, Gherardo Della Marta, explains. “Positive thinking helps you to be the person in charge of your own life.”

Embracing a growth mindset, where you believe in yourself, can help you to become more confident, resilient, and motivated. Over time, this can improve your relationships and work performance, and can even lead to a more fulfilling life. As Counsellor Saleha Choudhury (Diploma in Counselling, MBACP) explains, “It’s important to note that self-belief is not something you can simply conjure out of thin air. It’s a process that requires time, effort, and self-reflection."

As with all good things in life, fostering a positive, growth mindset takes time and effort. Just telling ourselves to see the best in life or that everything happens for a reason may give us a momentary boost that can be helpful then and there, but it doesn’t help challenge underlying issues that could be impacting us, such as:

  • Negative self-talk (where we think badly about ourselves and expect little, which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure or low expectations).
  • Poor self-care routines (when we don’t look after ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, we can lose energy, motivation, and self-belief).
  • A lack of acknowledgement of our successes.
  • Surrounding ourselves with negative influences. 

When we have a fixed mindset, we can start to believe that we are powerless. We can’t change things for better or worse, so why even try? When we move towards a growth mindset, we acknowledge that we have some control. It may be hard, painful or slow, but with time and effort, we can slowly begin to make changes for the better. 

So while the burnt toast theory may help provide a little mood boost when life’s little mishaps pop up, it’s good to remind yourself that you don’t have to look for the bigger picture or the silver lining when things go truly wrong. It’s ok to acknowledge that sometimes, things just suck. But with time and dedication, we can work towards improvement – whether that’s changing how we handle future tough situations, working on how kind we are to ourselves when we don’t live up to our expectations, or acknowledging that not everything is within our control, and sometimes, we can only do our best. 

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