10 Cognitive Distortions That Limit Our Success

Cognitive Distortion Dog in SunglassesThe language we choose daily impacts how we both see and experience our world in ways we are often unaware. Not only do we reveal ourselves through the words we choose to use, these also reveal our limiting beliefs.

As we capture thoughts, ideas and describe what we see around us using words, we must transcribe the bulk of what we see, hear and experience into a few chosen words. Inevitably, things get “lost in translation”, and we lose clarity and perspective through “Generalisations”, “Deletion” and “Cognitive Distortion”.

Distortion is where some aspect of our thinking and perceived experience is disproportionately given more weight or focus than another. We all do this consciously and unconsciously, and how we do it points to our underlying beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. Becoming adept at recognizing these will allow us to see into ourselves and others at a far deeper level.

Which of these do you do?

1. All or Nothing Thinking: Seeing things as black-or-white, right-or-wrong with nothing in-between. Essentially, if I’m not perfect then I’m a failure.

  • I didn’t finish writing that paper so it was a complete waste of time.
  • There’s no point in playing if I’m not 100% in shape.
  • They didn’t show, they’re completely unreliable!

 2. Overgeneralization: Using words like always, never in relation to a single event or experience.

  • I’ll never get that promotion
  • She always does that…

3. Minimising or Magnifying  (Also Catastrophizing):  Seeing things as dramatically more or less important than they actually are. Often creating a “catastrophe” that follows.

  • Because my boss publicly thanked her she’ll get that promotion, not me (even though I had a great performance review and just won an industry award).
  • I forgot that email! That means my boss won’t trust me again, I won’t get that raise and my wife will leave me.

4. “Shoulds”: Using “should”, “need to”, “must”, “ought to” to motivate oneself, then feeling guilty when you don’t follow through (or anger and resentment when someone else doesn’t follow through).

  • I should have got the painting done this weekend.
  • They ought to have been more considerate of my feelings, they should know that would upset me.

5. Labelling: Attaching a negative label to yourself or others following a single event.

  • I didn’t stand up to my co-worker, I’m such a wimp!
  • What an idiot, he couldn’t even see that coming!

6. Jumping to Conclusions:

a.) Mind-Reading: Making negative assumptions about how people see you without evidence or factual support.

Your friend is preoccupied and you don’t bother to find out why. You’re thinking:

  • She thinks I’m exaggerating again or
  • He still hasn’t forgiven me for telling Fred about his illness.

b.) Fortune Telling: Making negative predictions about the future without evidence or factual support

  • I won’t be able to sell my house and I’ll be stuck here (even though the housing market is good).
  • No-one will understand. I won’t be invited back again (even though they are supportive friends).

 7. Discounting the Positive: Not acknowledging the positive. Saying anyone could have done it or insisting that your positive actions, qualities or achievements don’t count…

  • That doesn’t count, anyone could have done it.
  • I’ve only cut back from smoking 40 cigarettes a day to 10. It doesn’t count because I’ve not fully given up yet.

 8. Blame & Personalization: Blaming yourself when you weren’t entirely responsible or blaming other people and denying your role in the situation

  • If only I was younger, I would have got the job
  • If only I hadn’t said that, they wouldn’t have…
  • If only she hadn’t yelled at me, I wouldn’t have been angry and wouldn’t have had that car accident.

 9. Emotional Reasoning: I feel, therefore I am. Assuming that a feeling is true without digging deeper to see if the rationalization attached to it is accurate.

  • I feel such an idiot (it must be true).
  • I feel guilty (I must have done something wrong).
  • I feel really bad for yelling at my partner, I must be really selfish and inconsiderate.

 10. Mental Filter: Dwelling on, or allowing one negative detail or fact to spoil our enjoyment, happiness, hope etc

  • You have a great evening and dinner at a restaurant with friends, but your chicken was undercooked and that spoiled
    the whole

Learning to overcome a limiting frame of perception is about recognizing the words we use, recognizing the impact it has on ourselves and others and wanting to change the behavior in order to reach a better outcome.

Coaching allows us to experience a non-judgmental mirror with someone who is willing to challenge us with thought-provoking questions, dissolving the limitations at the root of our beliefs and therefore our behaviors. A coach then works forward with your ideas around actions and better choices towards a more satisfying work or life experience.

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