What Are Cognitive Distortions?
Cognitive distortions are illogical or irrational ways of thinking. It’s a way our minds trick us into believing that something really isn’t true.
We all think irrationally from time to time; however, cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts that reinforce negative thinking, emotions, or behaviors.
They are more common in people with anxiety, depression, ADHD, mood dysregulation, or those that have anger management issues.
There are more than ten common cognitive distortions. This article on cognitive distortions will help you become more aware of irrational or illogical thoughts that you may have and more importantly, help you mindfully challenge and reduce these ways of thinking.
3 Common Cognitive Distortions
Catastrophizing, or magnification, is a common cognitive distortion. This is when our mind blows things out of proportion.
We tend to see the worst-case scenario in a situation without considering all of the other possibilities, especially the positive outcomes.
For example, a successful high school athlete anxiously tries out for the college team. As he nervously makes a few errors on the first day of tryouts, his thoughts automatically start thinking about being cut and not making the team.
His thoughts affect his focus, emotions, and behavior and he doesn’t perform well the remainder of tryouts.
Being mindful of our thoughts can help us notice irrational ways of thinking.
If you notice yourself thinking about the worst-case scenario, ask yourself, “based on the facts, how likely is this to happen?”
Remember, it takes the same mental energy to think of a negative outcome as it does a positive outcome. So, shift your perspective and live mindfully.
Think of a time you’ve been in a situation with another person and you’ve made an impulsive decision about what they think or feel about you.
Maybe you imagined they were judge, criticizing, or negatively labeling you in your mind.
Sometimes we project our own distorted feeling and fears onto others and imagine we know what they are thinking. This cognitive distortion is called mind reading.
When mind reading, we irrationally jump to conclusions based on assumptions, fear, or confusion.
Try to avoid emotional impulsivity. It is important to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and remind yourself that you don’t know what the other person is thinking. If you need clarification, ask questions or communicate what you are feeling.
You can say something like, “it seems you may be thinking ____, is that accurate?” This gives the other person an opportunity to express what they are feeling and can give you the information you need to move away from irrational thoughts.
Shoulds, ought toos, and musts are common ways our thoughts have power over us. We can be insecure of our own behavior and subtly judge our own choices: “I can’t believe I said that. I SHOULD have just smiled and nodded.”
This scrutiny can create a self-imposed, guilt, shame, and frustration. Other times we judgmentally evaluate the choices that others make: “Why is she wearing those clothes?! He SHOULD learn to drive.”
We criticize people, situations, or the world around us and this can create anger, irritation, and discontentment in ourselves and with others.
When we analyze ourselves or others and create expectations, we make conclusions in our minds about how things SHOULD have been or how they SHOULD be. And when the outcome is something different than the expectations our thoughts created, we cause stress in our minds, emotions, and even our bodies.
Depression lives in the past and anxiety lives in the future. If you are thinking of something you SHOULD have done in the past or focused on something you must do in the future, then you aren’t fully living in the present moment.
Try to avoid “shoulding” on yourself! Focus on the present moment and live mindfully.