5 Distorted Thought Patterns and How to Change Them
Life is all about how you think. Success or “failure”, however you define them, will only amplify your thought process, especially unhealthy patterns of thinking. Right behind your thoughts are feelings. If your thinking is unhealthy, how you feel about yourself will most likely hold you down. And emotions are more powerful than your logic so your feelings can over power you and send you into a very deep ditch.
Most of us are so focused on getting somewhere or obtaining something that we forget happiness lives in — the way we see the world, our beliefs about ourselves, and the way we think. What you think and how you think will determine your path but more importantly, if you’ll be walking or riding tigers.
Okay, so how you think.
Cognitive distortions. The basics.
Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves by playing broken records. There are many cognitive distortions. Here are what I believe are the most common cognitive distortions. See if any resonate with you.
We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.
Do you filter? If so, when? Write it down. How does that type of thinking bring you anxiety? What’s your behavior because of this distortion? How does it play out in your day to day?
2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
Is your thinking polarized? If so, when? A lot of this happens in business and in sports. How does that type of thinking create anxiety? What’s your behavior because of this distortion? How does it play out in your day to day?
In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat. This happens a lot when we’re dating. She didn’t return my text in three seconds so we think he’s dating someone else now.
Do you overgeneralize? If so, when? How does that type of thinking create anxiety? What’s your behavior because of this distortion? How does it play out in your day to day?
4. Jumping to Conclusions.
Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.
For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact. This happens a lot in relationships and friendships.
Do you jump to conclusions? If so, when? How does that type of thinking create anxiety? What’s your behavior because of this distortion? How does it play out in your day to day?
We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”. “What if I starve? What if I die?”
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
Do you catastrophize? If so, when? How does that type of thinking create anxiety? What’s your behavior because of this distortion? How does it play out in your day to day?
If you enjoyed this article and you’re curious about the rest of the cognitive distortions, check out my new book. I give the other 5 distorted thoughts patterns as well as HOW TO OVERCOME THEM. Plus I give you a step by step guide on how to build yourself a brand new container (your life space that promotes growth).
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