In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) we often talk about, and look for, what we call cognitive distortions. Also known as ‘thinking errors’ a cognitive distortion is a type of thought (one that a: disturbs you, and b: isn’t true). They include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralisation, mind reading, filtering, emotional reasoning and more. To find out what these are, and how to deal with them, read on.
With all-or-nothing thinking, you deal in absolutes, everything is in black and white: you are either right or wrong, a success or a failure; it’s either good or bad. There is no middle ground.
How to deal with it: Think in shades of grey. Life is complex, people and situations are complex, as are you. For instance, if you fail at something, instead of concluding that you are a failure, just accept this failing and remind yourself of past successes. In an argument, try to take the position that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong. Everyone has a point of view.
People often leap to conclusions based on a single situation or a single event. So, when something bad happens, or we experience a misfortune, we use it as evidence that everything is bad, always has been, always will be. For instance, failing a driving test means you will never be able to drive, going on a bad date means you are unlovable and destined to be alone forever.
How to deal with it: One failed test doesn’t mean you will fail forever, one bad date does not make you unlovable. Think of yourself and other people/situations where you or they have failed and gone on to succeed or experienced a negative event and gone on to something better.
Also known as jumping to conclusions and/or fortune telling, this is where you presume to know what someone is thinking (often it’s something bad, usually without any evidence), or have decided the outcome of a situation (your appraisal at work) without actually knowing it.
How to deal with it: Focus on the evidence. What actual proof do you have that someone is talking about you; what proof do you have that the meeting with your line manager to discuss your performance is going to go badly? If there isn’t any actual evidence, then you are probably worrying unnecessarily.
This is where you focus on the negatives of a situation, filtering out all of the more positive aspects. Nine good things could happen to you in a day and one bad. Guess which one you are going to focus on? At work you are complemented on 90 per cent of what you do, and 10 per cent is noted for improvement. Instead of focusing on the majority praise, you focus on the minority criticism.
How to deal with it: rationalise it out, train yourself to focus on what went right, not what went wrong. It can help you keep a diary in which you right down three positive things that happened each and every day.
Emotional reasoning is where we take our feelings and use them as facts. If we feel stupid and that we have nothing interesting to say, it means we are stupid and we do have nothing interesting to say. Sadly, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which you sap your confidence, become less engaged and don’t say anything at all: reinforcing the notion that you have nothing interesting to say.
How to deal with it: Feeling like a complete idiot does not prove that you are a complete idiot. Feelings are not facts. Separate the two. Base your conclusions on the evidence, not how you feel about things.
When you are disturbing yourself, write your thoughts down and try to identify the cognitive errors you are making. Then deal with them, analyse them; always look for evidence to the contrary. You will find it. For every mistake you’ve made there is evidence of success, for everything you don’t like about a person, there is something you do like. With practice, you will see thinks as they actually are, not as you think they are.