“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Ghandi
When put like that, it’s tough to argue with Ghandi. Our thoughts are powerful. Sometimes our thoughts can trick us, and the more we let them trick us, the more powerful they become.
What are the most common tricks thoughts play? Here are 8 common cognitive distortions:
Filtering – Ignoring the positive details of a situation and paying attention solely to the negatives (and even magnifying these).
Polarized Thinking – All or nothing, or black-or-white, thinking. If it’s not one way, it’s another, with no room in between. Either we got that A, or we failed.
Overgeneralization – Forming a conclusion based on a single experience. If something bad happened, we expect it to be repeated over and again.
Jumping to Conclusions – Similar to foretelling the future and mind reading, jumping to conclusions means that we are convinced we know the outcome before it transpires. Or we know how someone is feeling toward us based on their behavior, when really, people’s behavior is motivated and influenced by many factors.
Catastrophizing – Leaping to the worst-case scenario.
Personalization – Being convinced that everything that happens is because of oneself, or how another person acts has to do with you.
Control Fallacy – The belief that what happens to us is outside of our control is an external control fallacy. On the other hand, believing that we are responsible for how others feel is an internal control fallacy.
Emotional Reasoning – The belief that how we feel is fact. If we feel worthless and incompetent, then we must be so.
Take five minutes to do the following exercise. Grab a pen and a sheet of paper. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down every thought that comes to mind, resisting the urge to censor yourself.
After the 5 minutes are up, see if you can label any of the thoughts as one of the above cognitive distortions.
Which of these distortions do your thoughts fall into? Can you recognize a pattern? Now when you catch yourself thinking somewhere along these lines, you can stop yourself and say, “Hey, this line of thought sounds like one of those distortions. How can I challenge this thought?”
Acceptance is the first step. Acceptance does not mean that you have to lay back, resigned that things will never change. Quite the contrary. We all go through life denying bits of ourselves to some extent. The small ways, and the big ways, too, in which we hurt ourselves, damage our relationships, compromise our integrity and worth bit by bit wears us down over time. When we can accept ourselves, wholly and completely, – the good, the bad, and the ugly – only then can we proceed with awareness and intentional purpose to transform for the better.
Stay tuned for future posts where I explain next steps to changing maladaptive thought patterns.