Tamanna had a habit of imagining the worst-case scenario before any important event. For example, when she went in for a job interview, she was plagued by thoughts like “What if I miss the bus?”, “What if they realize I’m not fit for the role?” or “What if I say the wrong thing to the interviewer and get rejected?”. This habit made her doubt herself and often left her feeling exhausted and apprehensive.

It’s common to worry about all the bad things that can happen to us. Such thoughts are called cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are negative thoughts that can hamper our ability to think critically. They can affect the way we approach difficult situations and complex problems. That is why it is important to overcome them.

Let’s explore the meaning of cognitive distortions with examples.

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

There are times when you perceive a situation differently because of your emotions. For instance, after watching a horror movie, you may be spooked by strange sounds and think you’re seeing ghosts. No matter how much you want to shut out such thoughts, they come back to haunt you.

Distorting reality into inaccurate scenarios is known as a cognitive distortion. It’s a thought pattern that was first formalized in 1972 by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck.

According to formal psychopathology, cognitive distortions or errors can have the following effects:

  • They can affect your concept of reality

  • They can impair your judgment, compelling you to make risky decisions

  • They can make you over-generalize and make incorrect analyses

  • They impair your ability to filter information

  • They can make you focus only on the negative and ignore the positive

Types Of Cognitive Distortions

There are many different types of cognitive distortions or cognitive errors. Cognitive errors differ according to the situation. They impair our ability to process information, making us jump to conclusions. Let’s understand them better with examples of cognitive distortions.

  1. Overgeneralization

Priyanka’s friends suddenly stopped talking to her one day, without giving any reason. She couldn’t understand why. After this experience, whenever someone tried to be friendly with her, she became cold and distant. Priyanka believed they would leave her one day like her friends, so she found it pointless to make an effort at all. Priyanka made one of the most common thinking errors: overgeneralizing.

  1. All-Or-Nothing Approach

Rahul was very excited about his job interview for his dream job. When he didn’t get the offer, he was crushed. He started believing that his skills and abilities were lacking, that he was destined for failure and would never succeed. Rahul’s all-or-nothing cognitive distortion prevented him from seeing his rejection as a temporary setback. This kind of distortion is also known as black-and-white thinking.

  1. Jumping To Conclusions

Shraddha’s performance appraisal meeting with her manager lasted for about 10 minutes, and then her manager had to leave. Shraddha assumed that her appraisal was short because her performance had been inadequate. She blamed herself when the reality was that her manager had to rush home for a personal reason. Shraddha jumped to conclusions and ended up feeling discouraged.

These are some of the most common thinking errors that you may make. Some others are fixating on the negative aspects of a situation, blaming yourself for something that isn’t in your control and letting your emotions decide for you.

Ways To Overcome Cognitive Distortions

Combating negative thoughts takes time, dedication and patience. It’s easy to give in to negative thinking because it’s more difficult to think positively. But if you can make an effort to rise above your negative thoughts, you will benefit both personally and professionally.

Here are some helpful ways to overcome cognitive distortions:

  1. Consider the Evidence

Before making a decision or interpretation, take a moment to evaluate the facts. If you can figure out why you’re thinking negatively, you may find a solution. Facts can help you make informed decisions, stay calm under pressure and think objectively.

  1. Seek Help From Friends And Family

Talk to people you trust because they know you well. It’s a good idea to seek help from others when you’re unable to find a solution on your own. They may tell you things you weren’t aware of and guide you towards a better path.

  1. Think About Possible Solutions

Ask yourself what you can do to improve your situation. This can be a difficult step because it requires self-reflection. It brings you face-to-face with your thoughts, which can be daunting. But if you can take this step, you will generate helpful ideas that will lead to a positive outcome.

If you want to overcome your cognitive distortions you must address the issue. Harappa Education’s Thinking Critically course will teach you how to separate fact from opinion. You’ll learn how to use important tools like Mental Models to assess situations objectively. Thinking through situations is the best way to deal with negative thoughts. Learn to tackle your cognitive distortions to grow and be successful!

Explore topics such as Cognitive SkillsHow to Improve Cognitive SkillsCognitive Bias and Mental Models on Harappa Diaries and learn how to solve complex problems.