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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Control Fallacies (DW#500)

Some experts explain the last two distortions by calling them "control fallacies’. 

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: 
(1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or 
(2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, making us responsible for things which we cannot actually control, such as the feelings and actions of others. 

Of course, both beliefs are inaccurate and damaging. While it is dis-empowering to take no responsibility for things within our control, it is equally damaging to to accept responsibility for more than our share, or things which we have no power to change. 

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It’s not me – it is you (DW#499)

The opposite of taking responsibility for everything is to deny responsibility even for the things that I CAN control. 

When we suffer from this cognitive distortion, we tend to blame all our actions and reactions on others. 

You made me mad. 
It is because of you that I over ate tonight. 
It is my friend’s fault that I am late because she would not hang up the phone. 
Everyone was smoking so I could not help myself. 
I lied to you because you cannot bear the truth.

What is the problem with thinking like this? You live your entire life feeling like a victim. If your actions are controlled by others, then you cannot change them, can you? You must wait until others change before you will see a change in your life. 

I would not hold my breath for that!

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Personalization (DW#498)

Personalization is a cognitive distortion where we consistently take the blame for anything and everything that goes wrong with our life. 

When we think like this, everything that goes wrong is all about us, even if there is no way we could have controlled or even influenced the outcome. For example, if we go on a picnic with friends and it ends up raining, we tell ourselves it is raining because of the bad luck and bad weather that follows us wherever we go. 

Now taking responsibility for our life, our words and our actions is the mature thing to do of course but we are not accountable for the outcome of actions and situations beyond our control. 

And we are certainly NOT responsible for the weather :) 

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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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Quit shoulding yourself – and others (DW#495)

Many of us have a list of "shoulds" and "musts" and "ought tos" for ourselves and others.

I should be a better mother
My children should be more grateful

I must never get angry
People should park properly
People ought to recycle everything

Here is the problem with shoulds and musts:

Shoulds that are directed against ourselves lead to guilt and frustration. They almost never lead to motivating ourselves to do better.

Shoulds and musts that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration. When people do not follow the unwritten rules for life that we have, we start giving them mental tickets and minus points. And that generally does NOT lead to any change or improvement in them or in our relationship with them.

Are you ready to quit shoulding and musting? Start by recognizing how many times you say these words out aloud or in your head. 

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Emotional reasoning (DW#494)

Emotional Reasoning is a thinking pattern whereby we are in the habit of interpreting our experience of reality based upon how we are feeling at any given moment. 

If we are experiencing negative emotions about work or family for example, it influences how we experience our work or family. Instead of recognizing that we are having an off day, we assume that our emotions are giving us an accurate picture of what reality is. "I feel it therefore it must be true".

For example:

I feel that you never listen to me, therefore it must be true.

I feel that my boss is out to get me, therefore it must be true.

I feel that my children are throwing tantrums just to embarrass me therefore they must be really sneaky children.

In order to counteract this type of thinking, we need to recognize that when we are having a bad day or are emotionally triggered, it is most likely preventing us from thinking clearly.

By the way: It is NOT a good idea to make decisions when we are thinking and feeling...

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Minimization (DW#493)

positive thinking Nov 13, 2018
The unhelpful thinking pattern of minimization is the flip side of catastrophizing. It is also called "Disqualifying the Positive" because it minimizes positive traits about ourselves or situations – while magnifying mistakes (this is why it is also called the "Binocular Trick"). 

As we can imagine, this is a particularly dangerous distortion since it leads to continued negative and pessimistic thinking even in the presence of lots of contrary evidence.

Here is an example:

You receive a positive review at work. You minimize it as an anomaly. You play down your positives as exceptions. You talk-down all your positive attributes and accomplishments in order to lower people’s expectations. No matter how much people tell you that you are worthy, you focus on your mistakes rather than on your accomplishments. Although it may be mistaken for humility, this distortion is not about being humble but about not seeing the full picture of one’s strengths and...

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Decatastrophizing (DW#492)

positive thinking Nov 12, 2018
When we notice the catastrophic trains of thought that we have been discussing, we can challenge ourselves:

1)    To consider other possible outcomes

They do not have to be super positive either. They can be positive, neutral or even mildly negative – just not catastrophic. There is a vast difference between something being unpleasant, unwanted and catastrophic. Failing an exam, while unwanted and even distressing, does not doom anyone to eternal failure. Can you see that?

2)    To increase our perception of our ability to cope.

Life seldom throws things at us beyond our capacity to cope. If we remind ourselves that our ability to cope with life’s challenges has been pretty stellar so far, we can come up with a plan B and a plan C if the worst does come to materialize. When our brain becomes engaged in thinking about possible solutions and options, the attention moves away from the catastrophe itself and towards a more...

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