Cognitive distortions: errors in thinking
I'm sure you all are familiar with the phrase "thoughts become things". It suggests that whatever we think about the most, we attract that. This concept is perceived to be more of a philosophical theory. Today I'm here to talk about it's psychological basis.
Cognitive errors or cognitive distortions are those unhealthy thought patterns that interfere with our functionality. These thought patterns can have a significant impact on our perception towards life events and can further determine our actions. For example, the same situation might be perceived as a "failure" for one, and a "lesson" for another.
It is amazing how just a difference of one word can change what happens next. People who tend to label things negative are always more likely to quit in harsh situations. On the other hand, if the same person changes his/her/their perception about the event by labeling it as a lesson, they'll be more likely gather learning outcomes from the event.
Following are the various cognitive distortions, along with their impacts and how one can work on them:
- All or nothing- People engaging in all or nothing cognitive error tend to over generalise one life event over the entire life. For example, loosing one basketball match means I am a terrible basketball player. Failing one exam means I am academically poor. These people consciously or unconsciously believe that absolute excellence in a field is necessary. They don't leave room for mistakes. People aiming for perfect relationships with no arguments or fights at all also come under this category. People need to understand that it is basic human tendency to commit mistakes in order to be better. Giving up the task after one setback won't fetch you anything.
- Jumping to conclusions- This is a very popular cognitive error where the individual tend to over read into the situation. Let us understand this with an example, suppose Meeta called her friend but her friend didn't pick the call. Now, Meeta starts having this rush of thoughts to figure out why her friend didn't pick her call. Does she hate me? Did I do anything wrong? Am I being clingy? Was I rude to her in the party yestarday? Is she punishing me for that? While these thoughts were going on and on in her head, her friend calls her back explaining her phone was on silent and she didn't realise it was ringing. This example explains how a lot of people tend to over think and jump to conclusions without supporting facts. In such situations, these people can try to imagine that they are rushing though things and watch their thoughts.
- Fortune telling- This is another cognitive error when we tend to predict all the possible negative events that can happen in future. This is basically anxiety. Anticipating the worst that can come. What if I fail that interview? What if I get fired? What if I go bankrupt? There is no problem with finding out the possibilities for planning but with total negative future telling, people often tend to loose touch with reality. They end up making the predictions very dramatic which ultimately makes them very anxious. This is counter productive and must be watched over.
- Catastrophising- As the name suggests, this cognitive error is associated with dooming everything once a setback comes. It is a step ahead of jumping to conclusions. Here, there are more dramatic and over generalising of negatives from the future. This can be very unhealthy and must be dealt with.
- Minimising and maximising- This is associated with minimising the positives in life and maximising the negatives in life. They are those people that are very pessimist and always look at the darker side of everything. They tend to be very critical to everything. Because of this, they are never at peace and tend to think very negative all the time. This cognitive error can be worked on by making a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is an exercise where you write down 10 things a day that you're grateful for. It can be about people, things, skills, resources, etc. Anything at all. This helps with a number of cognitive errors. It makes a person look at the brigher side and makes them realise how much there is to be grateful for. It dramatically reduces the negative thoughts. Try it for a week and you'll have a list of 70 things you're grateful for.
Apart from the gratitude journal, you can always visit a therapist. A therapist or other mental health professional work on these negative thought patterns in a step by step manner. When a cognitive error has been with you since most of your life, it is hard to cope with it alone. So, it's better to take help from professionals and lead a peaceful life.