Cognitive distortions can increase stress, anxiety, and depression. Everyone has them, some people have them more often.
Cognitive distortion: An exaggerated or irrational thought that can cause people to see reality inaccurately.
Disprove cognitive distortions using the triple column technique. It’s a quick writing exercise.
🔎 Types of 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."
There are more distortions that I will link in the Read More section below.
💪 How to use the triple column technique:
There’s 3 steps:
Write down a topic or thought that’s causing stress.
“Something will go wrong on my flight today.”
Identify which distortions you’re experiencing:
Out of my control
Disqualifying the positive
Write reasons that your distressing thought is false:
“There’s no way for me to predict what’s going to happen on my flight later. It’s not helpful for me to focus on the worst case scenario. I gain nothing by worrying about my flight because there’s nothing I can do to make it any safer. Besides, flying is the safest form of public transportation.”
Be careful: Emotional statements such as “I am afraid of a plane crash” are not cognitive distortions. You are afraid of a plane crash and that cannot be disproven. However, you can challenge your false assumption that the plane is likely to crash.
You have to: write out this exercise on paper or in a mental health app. Writing the answer is critical because it makes you more likely to reinforce the exercise (seriously, doing this exercise “in your head” is worthless).
📚 More examples:
📈 Some stats:
I don’t have data on this exercise specifically, but there is a lot of data on the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for which this exercise is a critical part of:
A 2012 meta-study of 269 studies about CBT found that there is “very strong” evidence that CBT successfully treats anxiety, anger management, and stress. — Department of Psychology, Boston University
A 2008 study found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is as effective as antidepressant drug therapy at reducing depression symptoms. — University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
A 2008 study examined 300 CBT patients and determined that CBT significantly alleviated symptoms of worrying and depression. — Department for Anxiety Disorders Overwaal, Forum GGz Nijmegen, The Netherlands
You’re just choosing to focus on the good and ignore the bad. It’s basically lying.
It’s more than that. It’s about understanding that the bad are often distortions that don’t reflect reality.
My problems are real and aren’t irrational distortions.
Not all anxious thoughts are distortions. If your house is on fire and you’re worried about dying then that is a valid fear. But I would argue that most anxious thoughts don’t meet that same level of validity.
This won’t work for me.
This attitude can only serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are unwilling to pick up the tool and use it, you won’t be able to do the job.
📖 Read more
Other distortions: https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/
Creator of triple column technique: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_D._Burns
📱 Practice more
Download Bold CBT. It’s an iOS app that I made which makes it easier to do mental health exercises like this one.
🙏 Thank you
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