The truth about your thoughts

Did you know that just because though think something doesn't mean it's true?

I want to share a bit about cognitive distortions. These thinking habits plague all of us! (And I really mean all of us.) And they get in the way of us making changes we want to make in our lives. Learning about distorted thinking drastically affected my own recovery from anxiety and my ability to non-judgmentally question my own thoughts.

Here’s a useful graphic that summarizes the ten types of Cognitive Distortions as popularized by Dr. David Burns:

Pictured:  10 cards each with a different type of Cognitive Distortion described. The text reads:  Unhelpful Thinking Styles  1. All or nothing thinking: Sometimes called ‘black and white thinking’.  If I am not perfect, I have failed. Either I do it right or not at all.   2. Over-generalizing: “ everything  is  always  rubbish” “ nothing  good  ever  happens”. Seeing a pattern based  upon a single event, or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw.  3. Mental filter: Only paying attention to certain types of evidence.  Noticing our failures but not seeing our successes.   4. Disqualifying the positive: Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for some reason or another.  That doesn’t count.   5. Jumping to conclusions: There are two key types of jumping to conclusions:  Mind reading  (imagining we know what others are thinking) and  Fortune telling  (predicting the future)  6. Magnification (catastrophising) & minimization: Blowing things out of proportion (catastrophising) or inappropriately shrinking something to make it seem less important.  7. Emotional reasoning: Assuming that because we feel a certain way what we think must be true.  I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.   8. Should/must: Using critical words like ‘should’, ‘must’, or ‘ought’ can make us feel guilty or like we have already failed. If we apply ‘shoulds’ to other people the result is often frustration.  9. Labelling: Assigning labels to ourselves or other people.  I’m a loser. I’m completely useless. They’re such an idiot.   10. Personalization: “ this us my fault”.  Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault. Conversely, blaming other people for something that was your fault.    Creative Commons License, sources from http://psychology.tools

Pictured:

10 cards each with a different type of Cognitive Distortion described. The text reads:

Unhelpful Thinking Styles

1. All or nothing thinking: Sometimes called ‘black and white thinking’. If I am not perfect, I have failed. Either I do it right or not at all.

2. Over-generalizing: “everything is always rubbish” “nothing good ever happens”. Seeing a pattern based upon a single event, or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw.

3. Mental filter: Only paying attention to certain types of evidence. Noticing our failures but not seeing our successes.

4. Disqualifying the positive: Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for some reason or another. That doesn’t count.

5. Jumping to conclusions: There are two key types of jumping to conclusions: Mind reading (imagining we know what others are thinking) and Fortune telling (predicting the future)

6. Magnification (catastrophising) & minimization: Blowing things out of proportion (catastrophising) or inappropriately shrinking something to make it seem less important.

7. Emotional reasoning: Assuming that because we feel a certain way what we think must be true. I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.

8. Should/must: Using critical words like ‘should’, ‘must’, or ‘ought’ can make us feel guilty or like we have already failed. If we apply ‘shoulds’ to other people the result is often frustration.

9. Labelling: Assigning labels to ourselves or other people. I’m a loser. I’m completely useless. They’re such an idiot.

10. Personalization: “this us my fault”. Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault. Conversely, blaming other people for something that was your fault.

Creative Commons License, sources from http://psychology.tools

 

Here is how cognitive distortions can play out:

Say you want a raise at work. And you've tried a couple of times, but every time you hint at the conversation, your boss makes a funny face and you think, "She doesn't like me (mind reading). I'm going to get fired (fortune telling). I don't work hard enough for a raise (mental filter)." And this really creates a cycle! The destructive and discouraging thinking that results from one failed attempt to get what we want then makes it harder for us to put ourselves out there next time.

Let's not let our brain get in our way!

If you want to get your hands dirty, here's are two things you can try:

1. Pick one type of distorted thinking that you identify most strongly with. Write about a time when you had that kind of distorted thought (or make up a case in which you imagine you might). Reflect on whether the thought was True or simply your brain trying to make meaning that wasn't actually there. Gently and compassionately question yourself and leave the door open that your brain might not always reflect reality.

2. Now that you have an awareness of distorted thinking, you're likely to slowly start to catch them in the moment. This is a wonderful thing. Catch it, and re-frame the narrative into what you feel is more True. (i.e. Jessica is annoyed at you. This does not mean you are an annoying person. Keep it to the Truth of her being annoyed, don't make extra meaning from it.) Then tell someone you trust deeply about that thought process.

Good luck and let me know how it goes in the comments!