Cognitive distortions are irrational and often harmful thought patterns that can lead to negative emotions and behaviours. These distortions distort our perception of reality and can contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Here is a guide to understanding various cognitive distortions and practical strategies for overcoming them.

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking

Description: Viewing situations in black-and-white terms, without recognizing any middle ground. Example: “If I fail this test, I’m a complete failure.”

How to Overcome:
• Challenge Extremes: Ask yourself if there’s a more balanced way to view the situation.
• Consider Continuums: Think in terms of degrees, not absolutes (e.g., “I did well on some parts, not as well on others”).

2. Overgeneralization

Description: Drawing broad conclusions based on a single event. Example: “I didn’t get the job. I’ll never be successful.”

How to Overcome:
• Seek Specific Evidence: Focus on specific instances rather than generalizing from one event.
• Challenge General Statements: Ask yourself, “Is this always true?”

3. Mental Filtering

Description: Focusing on negative details while ignoring positive aspects. Example: “My presentation was terrible because I stumbled over one word.”

How to Overcome:
• Balance Your View: List positive aspects alongside the negatives.
• Practice Gratitude: Regularly write down things you’re grateful for to shift your focus.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

Description: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count.” Example: “That compliment doesn’t matter; they were just being nice.”

How to Overcome:
• Accept Compliments: Acknowledge and accept positive feedback.
• Keep a Positivity Journal: Record positive experiences and revisit them regularly.

5. Jumping to Conclusions

Description: Making negative assumptions without evidence.
• Mind Reading: Assuming you know what others are thinking.
• Fortune Telling: Predicting the future negatively. Example: “They didn’t reply to my text; they must be mad at me.” How to Overcome:
• Seek Evidence: Ask for clarification instead of assuming.
• Consider Alternatives: Think of other possible explanations.

6. Catastrophizing

Description: Expecting the worst-case scenario. Example: “If I make a mistake, I’ll lose my job and never find another one.”

How to Overcome:
• Reality Check: Evaluate the actual likelihood of the worst-case scenario.
• Problem-Solving: Plan how you would handle the worst-case scenario if it occurred.

7. Magnification and Minimization

Description: Exaggerating the importance of negative events and minimizing positive ones. Example: “My mistake was huge, but my successes don’t matter.”

How to Overcome:
• Balance Your Perspective: Write down both positives and negatives to gain perspective.
• Realistic Appraisal: Assess the actual impact of events objectively.

8. Emotional Reasoning

Description: Believing that your negative feelings reflect reality. Example: “I feel anxious, so there must be something to fear.”

How to Overcome:
• Fact-Check Your Feelings: Separate feelings from facts. Ask, “What evidence do I have?”
• Challenge Emotional Thoughts: Write down the evidence for and against your feelings.

9. Should Statements

Description: Using “should,” “must,” or “ought” statements to pressure yourself or others. Example: “I should always be productive.”

How to Overcome:
• Reframe Statements: Replace “should” with “could” or “prefer.”
• Realistic Standards: Set achievable goals and be kind to yourself.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

Description: Attaching a global label to yourself or others based on specific actions. Example: “I made a mistake; I’m a failure.”

How to Overcome:
• Specific Feedback: Focus on specific behavior rather than labels.
• Positive Self-Talk: Use compassionate and specific language about yourself and others.

11. Personalization

Description: Blaming yourself for events outside your control. Example: “My team lost because I didn’t perform well.”

How to Overcome:
• Realistic Responsibility: Recognize what is and isn’t within your control.
• Shared Responsibility: Acknowledge the role of other factors and people.