Ever wondered why our behaviour in both neurotypical and non-neurotypical people have negative thoughts in our differing environments?
The human population all have differing experiences, childhoods, reality and lifestyles. With these experiences through life humans use these experiences to form their own maps (beliefs and values) of what life is. Our brains are designed to protect us, and this is why we form negative cognitive distortions based on our own differing situations through life.
Through our coaching and own experiences, we have come across the following cognitive distortions where humans change reality with the following distortions or biases.
What are unhelpful cognitive distortions?
Black-and-white (or all-or-nothing) thinking: I never have anything interesting to say.
Jumping to conclusions (or mind-reading): The doctor is going to tell me I have cancer.
Personalisation: Our team lost because of me.
Should-ing and must-ing (using language that is self-critical that puts a lot of pressure on you): I should be losing weight.
Mental filter (focusing on the negative, such as the one aspect of a health change which you didn’t do well): I am terrible at getting enough sleep.
Overgeneralization: I’ll never find a partner.
Magnification and minimization (magnifying the negative, minimizing the positive): It was just one healthy meal.
Fortune-telling: My cholesterol is going to be sky-high.
Comparison (comparing just one part of your performance or situation to another’s, which you don’t really know, so that it makes you appear in a negative light): All my co-workers are happier than me.
Catastrophising (combination of fortune-telling and all-or-nothing thinking; blowing things out of proportion): This spot on my skin is probably skin cancer; I’ll be dead soon.
Labeling: I’m just not a healthy person.
Disqualifying the positive: I answered that well, but it was a lucky guess.
Emotional reasoning and not considering the facts.
Finally, many of us engage in emotional reasoning, a process in which our negative feelings about ourselves inform our thoughts, as if they were factually based, in the absence of any facts to support these unpleasant feelings. In other words, your emotions and feelings about a situation become your actual view of the situation, regardless of any information to the contrary. Emotional reasoning often employs many of the other cognitive filters to sustain it, such as catastrophising and removing any positives. Examples of this may be thinking:
I’m a whale, even if you are losing weight.
I’m an awful student, even if you are getting some good grades.
My partner is cheating on me, even if there is no evidence for this (jealousy is defining your reality)
Nobody likes me, even if you have friends (loneliness informs your thinking).
How do you challenge and change cognitive distortions?
A big part of realising our cognitive distortions is simply being aware of them and paying attention to how we are framing things to ourselves. Good mental habits are as important as good physical habits. If we frame things in a healthy, positive way, we almost certainly will experience less anxiety and isolation. This doesn’t mean that we ignore problems, challenges, or feelings, just that we approach them with a can-do attitude instead of letting our thoughts and feelings amplify our anxiety.
As someone who used to be a catastrophiser in getting tripped up by all these filters, I’ve learned to remind myself that whatever comes up, I’ll deal with it as well as I can, if not I will seek professional help.
As such, there’s no reason to worry about potential future problems in the here and now. If I worry about what might happen, then I have two problems: whatever hypothetical challenge that might not even come up in the future and a lot of unhelpful anxiety to contend with. As they say “fear is the mind-killer.” Being anxious or afraid certainly makes me less effective, no matter what I’m trying to accomplish.
A previous therapist once told me, the best way to work through our thoughts and feelings is to get a bullet journal and start writing down daily / weekly our situation / event that happened, our thought in that moment and the feelings to better understand what our own personal map looks like. This does two things, helps us create real life examples for our own reflection and also helps a therapist or coach to jump in knowing how to help you quickly if it is having an adverse affect on your goals, relationships, works etc.
Getting support to managing cognitive distortions
If you need assistance with challenging cognitive distortions, professionals such as therapists and coaches are skilled at helping people change unhelpful ways of thinking. If you are unable to find or afford a therapist or a coach, there are other resources available, such as meditation apps, CBT apps, mutual support groups, group therapy or group coaching (which can be less expensive than individual treatment), employee assistance programs through your job, or online communities. Your primary care doctor or your private health insurance may help connect you with other resources.