5 Distorted Thought Patterns and How to Change Them

Posted on May 13, 2017

Photo: flickr

In life, attitude is everything - it shapes our beliefs, our desires, and even our self-perceptions. We've all heard the saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it; because though we may not always be in control of the situation, we are in control of our emotions and cognition.

But sometimes emotions can be more powerful than logic itself. When emotions override our thoughts and sit in the driver's seat, we can fall victim to warped thinking based purely on our subjective feelings rather than the objective facts at hand. These inaccurate thoughts, or cognitive distortions, can be used to further reinforce negative thinking or emotions in order to keep us from feeling bad about ourselves. According to Psychology Today, these are the five most common cognitive distortions. See if any resonate with you.


1. Filtering

What it is: Focusing on and magnifying negative details, while filtering out all other positive aspects of a situation.

How to fix it: Focus on the positive! Review the day's events by writing down all the good things that had happened. Sometimes writing it down creates just the visual we need to put things in perspective.


2. Polarized Thinking

What it is: Thinking strictly in either "black or white". Thinking that we have to be either perfect, or a failure; there is no middle ground.

How to fix it: Allow for the complexity of most people and situations, rather than placing them in "either/or" categories. Think of exceptions to the rule, and apply the similar concept to yourself or to the situation at hand.


3. Overgeneralization

What it is: Coming to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence.

How to fix it: Ask yourself questions like, "How do I know this?", "What's the real-life experience to prove this?", or "Is this proof truly sufficient and relevant enough?" Persist in questioning your assumptions and shifting your awareness.


4. Jumping to Conclusions

What it is: Making decisions without having enough information to be sure that they are rise, giving rise to bad or rash decisions; similar to overgeneralization

How to fix it: Consider all possible alternatives. More importantly, only use firsthand information and primary sources; make it a habit to only be concerned about something if you have direct evidence of it.


5. Catastrophizing

What it is: Viewing or presenting a situation as considerably worse than it actually is.

How to fix it: Firstly, recognize when you're doing it - start by recording your negative thoughts to yourself on a piece of paper or little journal. Write down what happened as objectively as possible, what you thought about the situation, and then what your reaction of behaviors were. Soon enough, once you can see the direct cause and effects of your thoughts, you can begin to work on changing them.


Category(s):Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Source material from Psychology Today


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