Adults: 10 common thinking errors

Definition of Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are logical, but they are not rational. They can create real difficulty with your thinking. They are absolutely normal and we all make these thinking errors. We are more likely to make more of them and to feel that that are true when we are stressed. That is just the way the human mind works; it tries to simplify all the incoming information so we can cope and make a decision quickly. We all know (when we are calm) that simple aint necessarily true. Life is usually a complex shade of grey!

See if you are making any of the ten common distortions that people use. No need to argue with them, dispute them, or prove them wrong…just begin to notice that your mind does indeed tell stories – some useful, others not; some factual others not.  Once you recognise that your mind’s output is not all that reliable you will find it easier to let your thoughts float on by if they are not useful; you won’t get as stuck, bogged down by distressing beliefs that may or may not even be true!

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see your self as a total failure.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    1. MIND READING: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out
    2. THE FORTUNETELLER ERROR: you can anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the binocular trick.”
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’t, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him” “He’s a Goddamn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. PERSONALIZATION: You see your self as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Source: Burns, D. Feeling Good. The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated. (The ten cognitive errors are from Burns, the explanation is my own interpretation of some of the tenets of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.)

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