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Be an observer (DW#510)

It is easy to react negatively when we begin noticing how many times a day we are having cognitive distortions. This is NOT the time to put more labels on yourself (my head is a mess – why do I think so negatively? Why can’t I get this right? And so on . . . ) Thoughts such as these are simply indulging the mind’s inclination to making more cognitive distortions.

So instead of reacting to everything that we think, we can become unbiased observers of our thoughts.

When bad thoughts arise, (and they WILL), we can say, "It's interesting that I think that."

When good thoughts arise, we can say, "It's interesting that I think that."

Just watch your thoughts come and go, come and go, come and go.

When we practice observing thoughts rather than treating them as TRUE and then reacting, we can remain in control and not react based on our mental events.

Be like the ocean – underneath the waves, it is still, calm, unmoving.

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What are the facts? (DW#509)

We have already taken the first step towards more effective thinking and that is to begin to recognize that our thoughts are not facts. They are simply mental events that are often distortions of our mind.

Since thoughts are merely interpretations of events, why not choose more helpful interpretations? Why not choose interpretations that would make us feel good about ourselves and others rather than bring us down and cause us to blame and disconnect from our loved ones?

So the next time you catch yourself having a cognitive distortion, you may find it helpful to ask yourself: what are the facts?

Pretend that you are a lawyer (or a scientist) when you’re challenging your thoughts. The best lawyers and scientists generally don’t use feelings or opinions to win their argument – they stick to the facts (the evidence). Facts are those things, behaviours and events that you can see on a video screen.

For example, if you catch yourself thinking that you are a bad...

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The garden of your mind (DW#508)

It is said that your mind is like a garden and the thoughts are the seeds. 

Consider this: if you were the gardener of your mind, what would be the state of your garden? Would it be full of flowers or full of weeds?

Think of the negative thinking patterns that we have been talking about like weeds. Leave them alone or give them too much food and they are likely to take over, set deep roots and crowd out the flowers or positive thoughts. The longer you let them run wild, the harder it will be to get rid of them and the worse the state of your garden.

Over the last few weeks we have been, in a sense, examining the landscape of our garden and surveying the weeds. We have examined them, discovered the species that are growing roots in our garden and learnt about how they operate.

It is now time to start taking action to clear our garden of weeds so that the flowers may flourish.

Ready? (Or are you really really in love with the weeds? ;)

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List of cognitive distortions (DW#507)

Over the last several days, we have been discussing different kinds of unhealthy thinking patterns (cognitive distortions) that lead us away from mental and emotional wellbeing and negatively impact our relationships.

All of us engage in such thinking patterns from time to time and the more we begin to recognize them, the less hold they will have on us. This is how we can stop letting these thoughts control us and get back in charge.

Before we discuss some more ways we can combat these thinking patterns, here is a list of distortions that we talked about. You can click here to review any or all of them.

  1. All or nothing thinking/polarized thinking [DW#488]
  2. Overgeneralizations [DW#489]
  3. Labeling [DW#490]
  4. Catastrophizing [DW#491]
    1. Decatastrophizing [DW#492]
  5. Minimization [DW#493]
  6. Emotional reasoning [DW#494]
  7. Shoulding yourself [DW#495]
  8. Jumping to conclusions – mind reading [DW#496]
  9. Jumping to conclusions – fortune telling [DW#497]
  10. Personalization [DW#498]
  11. Blaming...
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The two darts (DW#506)

A very useful concept to start recognizing and dealing with unhelpful and negative thoughts is the concept of the "two darts" from Buddhism.

All of us experience pain in our lives. Pain is what happens when an event or situation outside our control causes us distress. For example, we get a headache, our car breaks down, someone betrays our trust, we lose our job. All of these are events that cause pain.

Events such as these are the first darts that life throws at us.

The second darts are how we respond to these events, what we think about them and what we tell ourselves.

If our car breaks down for example, this would be the first dart.

Some examples of second darts are if we tell ourselves:

Why does this always happen to me.
I am so unlucky.
I hate my life.
Now my whole week is ruined.
I will get fired because there is no way I can get to work on time.
I am going to go broke because of the repairs.

The reality of the situation is this: we cannot do anything about the fact our car...

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Self-serving bias (DW#505)

Today's cognitive distortion, the self-serving bias, is closely related to yesterday’s unhelpful thinking pattern (always being right).

A person who suffers from a self-serving bias will attribute all positive events or achievements to himself while seeing any negative events or mistakes as outside his control.

If I do well at work, it is my hard work.

If I mess up a project, it is my boss who did not give proper instructions.

If I am a good hostess, it is my own creativity and hard work.

If the food turns out bad, it is my children’s fault who distracted me while I was cooking.

If my relationship is going well, it is because I am such an awesome spouse.

If we are going through a difficult patch, it is because my spouse is being extraordinarily challenging.

This pattern of thinking causes a person to refuse to admit mistakes or flaws and to live in a distorted reality where he or she can do no wrong. 

Since self growth and emotional and spiritual maturity begins with...

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Always Being Right (DW#504)

This type of thinking pattern essentially thinks: It’s not me, it’s you. It is not my fault, it is yours. No matter what the issue is, I am right, and you are wrong. Please don't confuse me with facts or evidence or what experts think because I am not open to influence.

With this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right. We can see this distortion quite easily on social media platforms where people sometimes spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should "agree to disagree". To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs. The idea that there may be another equally valid opinion is quite alien.

As you can imagine, always being right can make us slightly (!) insufferable, tiring and...

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Fallacy of Change (DW#503)

The fallacy of change is another distortion which, even we recognize it, can be rather challenging to shift.

This pattern of thinking involves believing that we will be happy if people around us change to accommodate our wishes and desires. An outcome of this type of thinking is to expect that others will change if we just pressure or encourage them enough.

If I just nag my adult son enough, we may think, he will stop wearing un-ironed clothes. Or


If I gently (!) and sweetly tell my spouse that he should not watch so much football, or eat healthy, or cut his hair a different way, he should listen to my solid advice!

Instead of focusing on our own circle of control, we focus our energies on ‘encouraging’ others around us to change. Of course, it seems that the more enthusiastic we get about our agenda for others to change, the more they seem to resist our good advice!!

Now we do need to mention a huge caveat here: let’s be honest. The behaviour of...

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Heaven’s Reward Fallacy (DW#502)

Related to the fairness fallacy, this kind of distorted thinking makes us believe that we deserve a good outcome if we work hard and make sacrifices in the short run.

A lot of women (and parents) who believe they have done everything for their families are devastated when their relationships do not work out. They struggle to find the missing link – where did they go wrong, they keep asking themselves? What more could they have done? They never looked after their own needs and where did it leave them?

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if things always worked out as they ‘should’?

But each and every one of us knows lots of examples of when hard work and sacrifice did not pay off. Reality is that sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does...

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Fallacy of Fairness (DW#501)

This week we are continuing our series on Cognitive Distortions or Unhelpful Thinking Patterns.

Today’s distortion is called "fallacy of fairness" closely related to, and sometimes referred to as "Heaven’s Reward Fallacy".

The fallacy of fairness leads us to believe that the world in general and certainly our life "should" be fair.

Truth be told, this is a distortion that I fall into quite often. In my head, if we have good intentions, work hard and do the right thing, we should get good results. Are you with me on this?

The problem with thinking in this way is that we are often disappointed and even angry when we are faced with proof of "life’s unfairness". When something happens which does not appear fair, we resist the reality of it, telling ourselves "it should not be like this". (Guess who wins when we fight with reality?)

Those who are realists are more at peace when faced with situations that appear unfair. They seem to accept that "it is...

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