#0010 — Identify cognitive distortions

Do you experience any of these cognitive distortions?

🛑 Problem:

It’s hard to identify cognitive distortions when they’re happening in the moment. We’re lucky if we’re able to recognize them at all.

Cognitive distortions: An exaggerated or irrational thought that can cause people to see reality inaccurately.

✅ Solution:

Try identifying the distortions in the following scenarios. Practice makes us more likely to recognize and prevent cognitive distortions.

💪 How this works:

  1. Review the list of common distortions to refresh your memory.

  2. Read the first scenario and identify which distortions are occurring.

  3. Write down your answers on paper or a notes app. Do not attempt to complete these in your head.

  4. Review the answers at the bottom, reflect and ask questions.

📜 Common distortions:

  • ☄️  Catastrophizing: Are you focused on the worst case scenario? Regardless of how likely it is.

  • 🧠  Mind reading: Assuming what others think. They probably think I'm an idiot.”

  • ✨ Should statements: Pressuring yourself with things you should have done differently. I should have eaten healthier today."

  • 🌓  All or nothing thinking: Thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. "She doesn't want to date me. I'll never find love.”

  • 🕹️  Out of your control: Are you worrying about something out of your control?

  • 🔮  Fortune telling: Assuming future events. “I just know that something is going to go wrong and I'm going to be late for my interview.”

  • 🚫  Disqualifying the positive: Focusing only on the bad. He said that I looked nice but he says that to everybody. He was just being polite."

  • 🏷️ Labeling: Taking one characteristic of a person and applying it to the whole person. “I failed a test, so I'm a bad student.”

  • 🔎 Magnifying the negative: Judging a situation entirely on the negative parts and not considering the positive parts. “I ate healthy this week, but I skipped the run I had planned.”

There are more distortions that I will link in the Read More section below.

1️⃣ Scenario:

Your date texts you at the last minute to cancel because they are feeling sick. You feel angry and disappointed because you think: “They’re lying to try and let me down nicely. What did I do to mess this up again?”

Which distortions are you experiencing?

2️⃣ Scenario:

You've been trying to lose weight. But being home all weekend has made it very easy to snack during the day. At night you find yourself frustrated, reprimanding yourself and saying: “I must look like a pig. I shouldn't have snacked all day. I have no self control.”

Which distortions are you experiencing?

3️⃣ Scenario:

You have a massive work project that you’ve been working extra hours for. You tell yourself: “This is the biggest project I’ve ever worked on. Everything depends on this. If I screw this up then my life will be over.”

Which distortions are you experiencing?

🛑 Stop 🛑

Do not proceed to Solutions until you have written your answers down on paper or a notes app.






💡 Solutions:

Scenario One:

They’re lying to try and let me down nicely

There's no info to prove they're lying. You are mind reading because it's currently impossible to know why they canceled beyond the reason they told you.

What did I do to mess this up again?

This event is out of your control and you can't blame yourself for things that are out of your control. Even if they were lying, their lie would say more about them than it does about you.


Scenario Two:

I must look like a pig.

Firstly, you're labeling and thinking in extremes when you call yourself a pig. Instead of describing the error you made, you're attacking yourself. This does not get you any closer to your goals.

I shouldn't have snacked all day.

Should statements create guilt which also do not help you accomplish a goal, if anything, it makes you less likely to accomplish your goal. A healthier statement would be: “I didn’t meet my diet goals today. It sucks but I will make changes and try again tomorrow”.

I have no self-control.

This is an example of labeling because you have applied this one mistake to your entire life. Everyone has some self-control. We are disqualifying the positive when we ignore all the stuff we are in control of.


Scenario Three:

If I screw this up then my life will be over.

You're magnifying the negative and catastrophizing when you focus on the worst case scenario. Why didn't you spend that mental bandwidth on focusing on the best case scenario?

That being said, it's not healthy to focus on the two extremes. This all or nothing thinking is not representative of the real world. There are an infinite number of scenarios that can occur between worst and best. You cannot predict the future despite your fortune telling.

🌇 Conclusion:

Cognitive distortions suck. But we can prevent them from taking over our lives with a little practice everyday.

Here’s another powerful tool for defeating cognitive distortions: Triple column technique.

📖 Read more:

📱 Practice more:

Download Bold CBT. You can try this exercise and other mental health exercises. It’s an iOS app that I made. People seem to like it.

🙏 Thank you

I’m grateful that you read this far! Please send me an email to tell me what you think. Your feedback makes the newsletter better for everyone.

  • john@boldCBT.com

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