Is your brain full of noise? Do you feel like there is so much junk floating around up there that you can’t have a clear thought? Maybe you need to do some mental housekeeping to sweep away the psychic debris that tends to accumulate over time. How? Well, first you need to identify what exactly is clogging up your mind. Below is a list of common cognitive distortions (faulty thoughts that reinforce negative emotions, causing us to feel bad about ourselves). Take a look at the list and check yourself. Are any of these self-defeating thought patterns beginning to get a foothold in your mind and preventing you from enjoying your life?
- All or Nothing (Black and White) Thinking: If something isn’t perfect, it’s a failure. There’s no middle ground. at all. ever. People are either good or bad. Everything’s either Citizen Kane or Plan 9 from Outer Space.
- Mental Filter: Focusing on a single negative detail, while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. I don’t care how many times he says he loves me or that I can trust him. Even though we’ve been together for three years and we’re totally happy together, I still think he’d cheat on me, because of that day I caught him checking out the girl at Hot Topic.
- Overgeneralization: Interpreting one negative event as indicative of a never-ending pattern. Katya didn’t say hello to me at the company picnic. Nobody ever likes me at work. I’m just not capable of fitting in.
- Jumping to Conclusions: Making a negative interpretation of events and believing it to be fact, without evidence. Kevin never called me back. It’s been three days. It’s over. I just know it’s because Estelle has always secretly liked him, and she has said something to sabotage our relationship.
- Mind Reading: Assuming -with a negative bias- that you know what someone else is thinking, without finding out. Devin thinks he’s too good to go out with me, because I’m not in AP classes like him and his friends (when the truth is that Devin can’t go out with anyone, because his dad is unemployed and Devin has to work nights to help his family make ends meet).
- Fortunetelling: Predicting that things will turn out for the worst, and believing it to be fact. I’m never going to get cast in that production, even though I’m the most talented. There’s no point in even auditioning. They have their favorites, and I don’t stand a chance.
- Catastrophizing: Attributing extreme and horrible consequences to the outcomes of events. If I don’t get to the store before it closes, I won’t be able to get those shoes that match my gown. If I don’t look good for the charity gala, my husband will be embarrassed. He will be looked down on by the partners, and he won’t get the promotion at work. We won’t be able to get the house we’ve been wanting to buy. My husband will hate me, and…
- “Shoulds”: Having an ironclad list of how everyone (yourself included) should behave. Enough said.
- Personalization: Taking responsibility for negative events, or feeling that other people’s words and deeds are directed toward you. If my Mom hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to my recital, she never would have gotten in that accident. It’s all my fault. Or; I can’t believe Beverly said she doesn’t like candied yams, when she knows that I always bring candied yams to the pot luck!
- Blaming: Holding someone else responsible for our pain and problems. He made me feel like a quitter.
- Labeling: It’s an extreme form of overgeneralization. “He’s a loser.” “I’m lazy.”
- Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that if you ‘feel’ it, it must be true. I just feel like I don’t belong anywhere (seems true, but isn’t).
- Magnification/Minimization: AKA The binocular effect: diminishing positive events or enlarging negative events.
Ok, now you know what some of reasons are for the junk pile that’s stacking up inside your head, so let’s look at some simple ways to cut it down to size…
- Rate your problem situations on a scale of 1-10. How can you really freak out about losing your favorite sunglasses, if you realize it’s only a “2” on your scale?
- If your self-talk is pretty mean and critical (“You never do anything right. You’re an idiot.”), try talking to yourself as if you’re talking to a close friend (“I know it didn’t work out this time, but you’ll have plenty of other chances. Besides, you’re a great person, and I’m proud of you for trying.”).
- Talk back to thoughts that are trying to get the best of you. Dispute them and tell them they’re wrong. When a thought like “Nobody will ever love you. You’re not lovable, and you’ll be alone for the rest of your life,” pops up; tell it, “That’s not the truth. I have friends and family who love me dearly and I love them, too. I have always had love in my life, and I always will. It is in my nature to love and be loved.”
- Survey people you really trust. Ask them if they think your thoughts about a worrisome situation are reasonable or realistic. If they all say, “Um, no (or some other version of ‘no,’ like “Are you kidding me?”),” it might be an indicator that you’re thoughts are distorted.
- Seek to resolve situations, rather than blaming yourself. Oftentimes we try to assume responsibility for a predicament, when it’s not our fault-or anybody else’s. For example, lets say that the internet connection is lost and you can’t get to your appointments on Google calendar. Does it matter if it’s lost because of outdated hardware or a virus or a disconnected cord? No. Should you have known this was going to happen and somehow have prevented it? Again, no. Phone a friend, consult tech support, or go next door and get help. It may be a “4” or “5” on your scale, but you can still solve it like a boss.
- Do a cost-benefit analysis (therapists love this one). When your thoughts are out of whack, you can gain perspective by asking, “Just what do I get out of thinking this way?” Am I trying to defend myself from a perceived threat or loss? Is it working? Does thinking this way make me feel smarter, more important, safer, or loved? Is it worth it to continue to think this way? Will I be happy or successful by continuing to think this way? Who benefits from my catastrophizing, blaming, overgeneralizing, polarized thinking, etc? Ask yourself, “What does it cost me to think like this?
So, this is how you can begin the clean-up of your mind. It might be a slow process at first, but stick with it and you will begin to gain momentum. We all experience cognitive distortions from time to time. However, if you read through this blog and saw a lot of things that applied to you, maybe you need a thought partner. At Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando, we have a fantastic team of skilled professionals ready to help you get your thoughts in tip top shape. Give us a call at 407-355-7378. Best wishes, Kim