Stop your thoughts from controlling you

Jun 2, 2024

This week’s theme is about getting to know our thoughts so they have less control over us.

You know what is funny about our mind? It has a tendency to negatively misinterpret situations and experiences which can then impact our mood and the way we behave.

For example, let’s say you didn’t get a job you applied for. You likely felt sad after not getting the job, and perhaps this led to you avoiding applying for another one for a little while. This connection between a situation (not getting a job), a thought (“I’m a failure”), an emotion (hopeless), and a behavior (procrastinating on next job application…) is rooted in an evidence-based theory called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (otherwise known as CBT).  

According to CBT, how we feel and act can truly depend on our interpretations of our experiences.

Sometimes our interpretations can be accurate… while other times they are really not. When interpretations are not an accurate reflection of reality, we call them “cognitive distortions.”

We ALL fall victim to cognitive distortions on a daily basis, but the good news is that the more we can become aware of the ones we participate in most, the less they will control our mood and our behaviors.

In this post, we'll 9 common cognitive distortions and how we can counter them. I encourage you to note the ones that resonate the most with you! 

#1: Labeling

Labeling is when you take a behavior and turn it into an identity by putting a name or label on something or someone. 

For example, let’s say your neighbor made a mistake. All of a sudden they are an “idiot.” Or a child makes a bad choice, then “they are a bad kid.” Labeling can lead to hopelessness because if something is a part of our identity, then we’re stuck like that. 

This applies to yourself, too. Have you ever labeled yourself as a failure, a "bad cook," or "someone who can't do math?" This is a cognitive distortion that can leave you feeling trapped.

One way to counter labeling is to come up with an alternate explanation for the situation. For example, In response to your neighbor making a mistake, you can think “everyone makes mistakes sometimes, I’ve been there before.”

#2: Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is when you exaggerate the significance of an event — you believe the worst case scenario is most likely going to happen. It involves a lot of “what if” thinking. 

For example, here's one: “my partner is late for dinner, they probably got into a car accident and are in the hospital”

Counter catastrophizing by gathering more information before coming to a conclusion. Say to yourself “I don’t have enough information to confirm an explanation for this situation. I’ll have to gather more data or context.”

#3: Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization is when you take one bad thing and assume everything will be awful based on that isolated event

For example, you get rejected by one job and think, “I'll NEVER get a job.” 

One way to counter overgeneralizing is to start catching yourself using words like “always” or “never” and replacing them with alternate possibilities

#4: Personalizing

Personalizing is when you blame yourself for external events or things out of your control. It is when you believe that external events are in some way related to you. 

For example, your boss has a sour look on her face and you think “I must have done something to upset her.”

One way to counter personalization is to remember that everyone is more focused on themselves than you, and that most people are just dealing with their own stressors in life which impacts how they come off to others. 

#5: All-or-nothing thinking

This is when you think in extremes and see things in black and white.

For example, you start a diet, but then you eat 1 cookie and think “I ate 1 cookie, I might as well eat the whole box.”

One way to counter all-or-nothing thinking is to try and hold seemingly contradictory ideas at once.

Consider the gray area. For example: “I can be on a diet and still eat 1 cookie.” 

#6: Should statements

This is when you make “rules” about how you or others should or must behave — and get upset when the rules are broken. 

For example, you believe that you should always put people first, and when you don’t, then you think “I’m rotten if I fail to do so.”

One way to counter “should" statements is to question where they came from. Most of the time you'll find that “should” statements come from other people’s expectations for you, not your own (i.e. family, society, work, etc.)

#7: Mind-reading

Mind-reading is when we assume we know how others think or feel about us without sufficient evidence. 

For example, when your boss doesn’t assign you a project, you think “my boss thinks i’m incompetent.” 

One way to counter mind-reading is to “check the facts” — look for evidence to suggest your concern. If you can’t find any, remind yourself that you are not sure what the other person could be thinking or needing until they tell you

#8: Mental Filtering

This occurs when we only see or remember the negative experiences and ignore positive ones

For example, when your partner does something you dislike and you think “they ALWAYS do this, why do they NEVER listen when I tell them not to do this?”

One way to counter mental filtering is to pause and come up with 2-3 positive things about the same situation or person. 

#9: Minimizing

Our final distortion! Minimizing is when we downplay the significance of events or make unrealistically “permissive” statements to ourselves.

For example, you are feeling unfocused while working and think “I’ll just scroll on instagram for a little bit…”

One way to counter minimizing is to give yourself a reality check. For social media, you can look at how much screentime you’ve had in the past. 

Final Thoughts

This week, we're talking about getting to know our thoughts through the lens of cognitive distortions. Did any of them stand out to you?

Cognitive distortions can stem from childhood or our core beliefs about the world, and we ALL have them.

Remember, cognitive distortions are interpretations we have of the world that don’t accurately reflect reality. The more we become aware of them, the less power they have over us!

Hope to see you around some of the sessions this week!

Darya, focused space host

P.S. Our programs and resources are for informational purposes only. This website is not for emergency or crisis help. Our programs are not intended to provide mental health diagnosis, counseling, or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.