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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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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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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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Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling (DW#497)

There are two kinds of distorted thinking which lead us to jump to conclusions – mind reading, which we discussed yesterday and fortune telling.

Fortune telling is when we jump to conclusions and make predictions about the future – predictions which are most likely to be negative.

If we lose our job, for example, we may predict that we will be broke and poor for the rest of our days. If we have a bad experience in a relationship, we may assume that we will never find love or settle down.

As you can imagine, fortune telling can make us quite miserable about things that may never happen! Instead of being realistic that various different outcomes are equally possible, fortune telling convinces us that the outcome is bound to disastrous, even though the opposite may be just as possible.

So the next time you notice yourself fortune telling about yourself or others (hint: as parents some of us are rather skilled at telling our children’s negative fortunes if they...

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Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading (DW#496)

Sometimes we are convinced that we know what another person is thinking and what their motivation is for doing something. We make this assumption and then we start treating that assumption as if it were a fact – true beyond dispute.

If that assumption is neutral or positive there is no harm done. For example, if I go grocery shopping, I can safely assume that my spouse will like a certain brand of ice cream. This is mind reading from past experience and does no harm (unless he has decided to go on a diet, of course).

The vast majority of time, however, our assumptions are far from positive or neutral. They are negative interpretations that we have come to from a given set of facts without checking them out.

If someone does not greet us in a public place, we may assume any of the following:

-       They are mad at us
-       We have offended them in some way
-       They are holding onto a...
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Overgeneralizations (DW#489)

Have you ever taken a single event or one piece of evidence and come to a judgment or a conclusion based on that?

All of us (that’s a generalization by the way!) have made a generalization or a broad statement to a group of people or things. Basically, our minds are so hungry for the impression of knowledge and certainty about our circumstances that they automatically form broad, sweeping conclusions based on very little information or experience. This is particularly true when we’re under the influence of strong negative emotions.

The problem with generalizations is that they are seldom true and can be the basis of prejudice and racism if they embody negative assumptions about entire groups of people.

As Albert Einstein said: All generalizations are false, including this one.

In relationships generalizations and overgeneralizations can cause trouble.

When we say things like "She always", "You never", "Some people are so . ." we are making...

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All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking (DW#488)

For the next several days, we will be looking at different types of distorted thinking.

Today let’s look at Black-and-White Thinking which is sometimes also called Polarized Thinking.

Some examples of black and white thinking are:

He is a terrible person

My sister is so beautiful and I’m so ugly.

This option is great and the other one is awful.

When we think in this way, we are unable or unwilling to see shades of grey or a middle ground. Things are either good or bad, right or wrong. In other words, we only see the extremes of the situation.Nothing is okay or good enough or somewhere in the middle – it is either fantastic or awful, we are either perfect or we are a total failure.

While black and white thinking can provide us with apparent security and certainty in the short term, it is fundamentally distorted because people and situations are rarely so simple and easy to categorize. All of us, and most situations in life as...
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Steps to change our thinking (DW#485)

So how do we begin to change our thinking patterns? Here are some steps:

1)   Intention.

As we know, everything begins with an intention. Making the intention sets the program into motion, so to speak.

2)   Learn about distorted thought patterns

We need to know what some common distorted thought patterns are so that we can recognize them when we engage in them

3)   Recognize distorted thinking

This is the ongoing practice part. Here’s the thing: we could get a PhD in ‘cognitive distortions’ (I am quite sure it does exist) but this will not mean that we will not engage in these unhelpful patterns. It is an ongoing practice to recognize when we are engaging in negative or distorted thinking.

4)   Replace with helpful thinking

Once we recognize the patterns, we can replace them with thoughts that will be are more positive and helpful and will uplift and encourage us rather than bring us down.

...

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But why are so many of our thoughts negative? (DW#484)

Hopefully you are beginning to notice that you are having thoughts that come and go, contradict each other and seem mostly negative. If you are, congratulations, you are well on your way to improved mental health and emotional intelligence.

Negative thoughts are perfectly normal and according to many psychologists, may be the default position of our mind.

This is because negative thoughts exist to keep us safe. Really.

Our ancestors survived by constantly being on the lookout for threats, fixing problems as they arose, and then learning from their mistakes. If they were optimists and stopped to admire the sunrise and smell the roses, they may not have survived to give birth to their children and we may not have been here.

They used their imagination to consider potential threats and problems, enabling them to solve the problems before they got into trouble and were attacked by predators.

So thankfully they were able to watch for and deal with trouble before it attacked them and that...

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Don’t believe everything you think (DW#483)

As we said yesterday, most of our thoughts are automatic and negative. When we are having a particular thought, it appears logical and TRUE.

If we get used to examining our thoughts however, we begin to recognize that our thoughts can be unstable and often arbitrary, shifting depending on context and contradicting our better instincts. If we are upset at someone for something, for example, we may begin to develop "tunnel vision", and our thoughts focus only on their negative aspects and ignore the positive ones.

The problem does not lie in the fact that we have thoughts, but in the fact that we sometimes begin to form our personal identities around the things we think. We begin to believe every thought that we have. If I think that someone is mean, for example, they must be mean.

One of the key aspects of self growth, of emotional intelligence and of mental health is to recognize thoughts as passing phenomena of the mind without attaching ourselves to every thought that we have and...

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