Gain Solid Reasoning With These Evidence-Based Terms

REASONING'S Roadblock: Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive or thought distortions repress our full potential. They fill us with assumptions and instigate bad moods. They make us think we aren't capable, and close off our perspective.

These distortions are illogical self-talk that skew perception of self, and how situations are interpreted. Each is a misinterpretation of reality which tend to leave us with a sour disposition, narrow mindset and non-productive decision making.

Want to know a Few of Them?

Dozens of cognitive distortions exist and go by various names. I will start with the most common in this article, and write about additional distortions later. Right now, see how these distortions reflect in your life.

1) Negative filtering

What is it?   When a scenario or circumstance is interpreted based on what is wrong. We do not see the opportunities that exist or the progress we have made. We just want to complain and be mad, miserable, or hopeless about it.

For example, my team has to relocate from our amazing office space. It is rotten, but what are our choices? 

We can complain about our new space and lament the loss of the old one, or we can be content with this circumstance, and see the good. And, there is a lot of good with our move. The sun won't bug our computer screens any more, and we will have new neighbors!

You have the choice when given a supposedly bleak situation to accept it and find other opportunities or be really pissed off about it and left with nothing.

You can turn, "I have to sit in rush hour, again," to " I get 30 minutes to myself to listen to my favorite comedy album, look at scenery, and practice breathing techniques".  

Why it Distorts: The distortion of negative thinking is that you only see the bad. You get stuck on one aspect and don't see other options. Our brains have an inherent negativity bias which we tend to grab onto instead of wanting to find possibilities for happiness.

2) All or Nothing Thinking 

What is it? When we let general beliefs become fact and don't consider a middle ground. This term is often called "black and white thinking" or "splitting" because there is no gray area or in-between.

For example, I've thought, "I can't run a meeting, because I am not fully prepared". While my presentation may not be absolutely perfect, I am capable of presenting. My performance may not fit my standard of perfect, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't present what I have. I "can't" is an all or nothing statement. I "can" do it. I just have the belief that it has to be perfect or it shouldn't be done. 

All or nothing thinking manifests with words such as: have toalways, never, impossible, i am, won't and can't

Why it distorts:  We live in a world of extremes and unrealistic absolutes. We think that things must fit into a certain mold or they don't meet a standard of worthiness.  As a result of thinking we are incapable, we create anxiety and worry which puts extra stress on top of performing. 

3) Mind Reading

What it is? When we assume what someone is thinking without having concrete evidence. We like to use context clues, but there are usually various possibilities of what someone is thinking.

For example, I am regularly worried that I annoyingly ask too many questions to my coworkers. After the lengthy pain of internal debating, I decided to ask one of them if I was honestly being overbearing which they responded, "of course not, ask more!"  It felt great to clear the air. 

Why it Distorts: We ponder the possibility of what a person thinks and let it distract us. We tend to avoid solving the issue with confrontation, and instead we revisit the instance to ourselves in looping fashion. Mind reading fills our thoughts with unlikely conclusions, but every once in a while we are right which validates our insane internal ramblings and assumptions.

What to do?

Cognitive Distortions take time and practice to overcome. We can train our brains away from bad habits and rewire new connections. But, be patient. 

This week: Notice when you partake in any of the three distortions mentioned earlier. With in the moment awareness, you can counter the distortion and create new possible outcomes.

EDITION: Continue to the follow-up article, How to Screen Thoughts for Sharper Reasoning.   


Cara Jacobsen is the Director of Clinical Operations for DataDog Health developing Mindset, a biomedical app that manages and measures physiology and mental state toward personalized stress regulation. She has a Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) from St. Louis University.








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