You probably know someone who is habitually cheerful. Looks on the bright side all the time. And you probably know someone who perpetually sees the glass half empty. Always a downer. In fact, these people can look at the same thing and have totally opposite views. That’s because they process their thoughts differently. And neither is necessarily accurate—their reality is distorted. Psychologists refer to this as cognitive distortion.
The good news is that you can change the way you think. Cognitive distortion seems automatic in your brain because you are in the habit of thinking the way you think. But like any habit, you can change it with practice. And if you are in the habit of thinking negatively, it can lead to a stress-filled, anxious life. You may even be depressed as a result of your thought patterns.
The first task is to identify ways of thinking that may be detrimental to your health and happiness. Here are some thought patterns to look for:
- It’s All About Me. If you tend to think that people around you do and say things as a result of your actions, think again. They probably think about you a lot less than you think. They’ve got their own lives to worry about. They’ve got their own thinking patterns to adjust. Try not to take everything personally.
- You’re with Me or Against Me. You’re right or you’re wrong. This kind of black-or-white thinking does not allow for nuance. It does not allow for a middle position, which is where most people meet to compromise. There are always two sides to every story, and usually the truth is multifaceted if you’re being reasonable.
- Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong, will go wrong. What is the worst thing you can imagine? That is what is sure to happen. Doom and gloom, perpetually. But here’s the corollary: Not everything can go wrong all the time. Sometimes things go right. People who habitually think the worst need to remember the laws of probability.
- Ignoring the Positive. These are the people who get an A on a paper but chafe over a misplaced comma. These are the people who never hear compliments, and only dwell on criticism. These are people who are obsessed with tiny flaws and have not learned to relax a bit. Enjoy the good things in life and let the little things go.
- Knowing You’re Right. You get an impression and you internalize it as fact. You get a feeling and you know it’s true. If you feel stupid you must be stupid. If you fear something it must be dangerous. When you internalize your feelings into hardened fact, you know you must be right. And you could be so wrong. Try to keep an open mind.
- If Only Others Would Change. Then your life would be great. But your partner refuses to pick up her socks and leaves them around the house. If she would only learn to use the hamper, your life would be better. If you could only control her behavior. If she would only change to accommodate you. But the only sure change you can make is your reaction to her behavior. You can try not to let it bother you. You can decide it’s not important in the scheme of things and pick up the socks yourself.
“I think, therefore I am.” Descartes understood that the brain is easy to fool. So how do you know that what you experience is true? You trust yourself and the thoughts that come into your brain. But it’s how you process those thoughts—your thinking patterns—that can get you into trouble. If you recognize some of the above patterns in your thinking, consider making some adjustments.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.