UNHELPFUL THINKING HABITS
or Cognitive Distortions
Over the years, we tend to get into unhelpful thinking habits such as those described below. We might favour some over others, and there might be some that seem far too familiar.
Once you can identify your unhelpful thinking styles, you can start to notice them – they very often occur just before and during distressing situations. Once you can notice them, then that can help you to challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts, and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.
Summarise with: Fact or Opinion?
When we notice only what the filter allows us to notice, and we dismiss anything that doesn’t ‘fit’. Like looking through dark blinkers or 'gloomy specs', or only catching the negative stuff in our sponges, whilst anything more positive or realistic is sieved, ignored, dismissed or we make excuses for
Am I only noticing the bad stuff? Am I filtering out the positives? Am I wearing those ‘gloomy specs’? What would be more realistic? What am I sponging, what am I sieving?
Assuming we know what others are thinking (usually about us)
Am I assuming I know what others are thinking? What’s the evidence? Those are my own thoughts, not theirs. Is there another, more balanced way of looking at it?
Believing we know what’s going to happen in the future
Am I thinking that I can predict the future? How likely is it that that might really happen?
Compare and despair
Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others, and comparing ourselves negatively against them
Am I doing that ‘compare and despair’ thing? What would be a more balanced and helpful way of looking at it?
Putting ourselves down, self-criticism, blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not totally our responsibility
There I go, that internal bully’s at it again. Would most people who really know me say that about me? Is this something that I am totally responsible for?
Shoulds and musts
Thinking or saying ‘I should’ (or shouldn’t) and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves, and sets up unrealistic expectations
Am I putting more pressure on myself, setting up expectations of myself that are almost impossible? What would be more realistic?
Imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen
OK, thinking that the worst possible thing will definitely happen isn’t really helpful right now. What’s most likely to happen?
I feel bad so it must be bad! I feel anxious so I must be in danger
Just because it feels bad, doesn’t necessary mean it is bad. My feelings are just a reaction to my thoughts – and thoughts are just automatic brain reflexes
Mountains and Molehills
Exaggerating the risk of danger, or the negatives. Minimising the odds of how things are most likely to turn out, or minimising positives
Am I exaggerating the risk of danger, and minimising the evidence that it's most likely to be okay? Or am I exaggerating the negative and minimising the positives? How would someone else see it? What’s the bigger picture?
Evaluations / Judgements
Making judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for
I’m making an evaluation about the situation or person. It’s how I make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean my judgements are always right or helpful. Is there another perspective?
Black and white thinking
Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything in-between or ‘shades of grey’
Things aren’t either totally white or totally black – there are shades of grey. Where is this on the spectrum?
Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, leading us to believe that the danger is here and now, rather than in the past, causing us distress right now
This is just a reminder of the past. That was then, and this is now. Even though this memory makes me feel upset, it’s not actually happening again right now.
Summarise with: Fact or Opinion?