Thought restructuring using cognition correction tools goes a long way in overcoming erroneous thinking patterns.
I failed the driving test. I can never ever drive.I am good for nothing. Hence, I am useless. Have you ever felt like this? If so, you’ve had a cognitive distortion, or an error in thinking process.
An occasional cognitive distortion happens to everyone and is considered to be normal. But in case, these erroneous thinking patterns happen constantly or regularly, it is time to take a reality check and change your thoughts.
What is an error in thinking? What is a thought distortion?
Error in thinking or thought distortion is the way by which our mind makes us believe what we feel is right, irrespective of the facts or reality. Thoughts are considered to be electrochemical reactions in the brain.
A few basic Thought (cognitive) Distortions…
1. Over-generalisation: It is the practice of taking an isolated negative event or aspect and applying it to all the areas of your life. In psychology, over-generalization is defined as a mental skewing wherein a person sees a single occurrence as an invariable rule.
Examples- A person, who had a bad married life, if a victim of over-generalisation, might think that all marriages are unsuccessful. Such a person will never marry again.
If a person had fallen down while riding a bike or cycle, he will think that he will fall down, in case he rides two-wheelers in future. This will prevent him from riding a bike again.
2. Emotional reasoning: If a person is a victim of emotional reasoning, he will assume his emotions or feelings to be true. In reality, these feelings could be far from true.
Examples- If a person while getting up in the morning feels tired and lazy and assumes his feeling of laziness to be indeed there, he might end up being in bed and missing office.
Emotional reasoning can lead to or aggravate feeling of despondency or even depression.
3. All or nothing thinking: This thought (cognitive) distortion is also known as ‘black and white thinking’. This thinking pattern leads to perfectionist thinking. A victim of this distorted thinking pattern views things as either good or bad and nothing in between. Generally, the thinking pattern of these people tends to be negative.
Example- A student would have performed well in an exam. But if he has all or nothing thinking, he will feel bad and even think that he had failed since he didn’t top the exam.
4. Personalisation and Blame: When we hold ourselves responsible for an unfortunate event or situation and discount the role of others in it, it can be termed as personalization.
Example- Suppose you had an argument at home or workspace. If you are a victim of personalization, you will feel that you only are responsible for the argument. You will believe that your spouse or your colleagues never contributed to the argument.
5. Blame or scapegoating: is the exact opposite of personalization. Here, we hold everyone apart from ourselves responsible for any shortcoming or debacle.
Regularly personalizing situations can lead to undue stress and anxiety. On the other hand, constant blaming of others can lead to unpleasant experiences and loss of trust from colleagues and friends.
6. Labeling: In labeling, we apply a fixed broad label to ourselves and to others. When we start labeling ourselves, it hits our self-confidence badly. When we start labeling others, it leads to prejudice and lack of compassion.
Example- If you find your friend along with a group of smokers, you can label him as a smoker. But it could turn out that your friend is a non-smoker.
7. Filtering: If we primarily focus on a negative aspect of a situation, the distortion is termed as mental filtering. In other words, a person would look only at his failures and will be completely oblivious to his successes.
8. Jumping to conclusion: This happens when we interpret things at a go and that too without any proof.
How to overcome errors in thinking; thought management?
The best way to overcome cognitive distortions is through thought restructuring, i.e. the process of substituting erroneous thought patterns with those, which are true and useful to you.
Following is a sample cognitive worksheet, which you can use to restructure faulty thought patterns.
Date Situation Your emotions and thoughts Evaluation
1. Once in a week, go to a quiet room where you will not be easily disturbed. If you wish so, you can do this exercise more frequently.
2. Ensure that you are out of bounds of phone calls and text messages.
3. Take a few deep breaths. Then, resume normal breathing.
4. Describe the situation that led to your erroneous thought patterns.
5. Then proceed to describe in detail as to your emotional state at that point of time.
6. Once you have described your moods in detail, take a short break.
7. Now, take a few deep breaths and then resume your normal breathing.
8. Analyze what you have written. Evaluate your moods at the time of the unfortunate incident or at the time when you had a wrong thinking pattern.
9. Think deeply whether what you thought is indeed true. Even if it were true at that point of time, will that be true always?
10. Think of alternatives. For instance, you didn’t get promoted at your workplace this time. Realise that this is not the end of your career. You might be promoted next year. You might even get a better job opportunity. Believe that you will succeed in the days to come.