Do you use ‘always,’ ‘never, ”should,’ or other absolute terms a lot when you are talking?
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
Does a small setback upset you so much that you feel you are a total failure?
Does the following scenario feel familiar to you?
You are on a strict diet and you might have eaten just a small piece spoon of ice cream, but think to yourself that you have blown the diet completely, and start to gobble down a whole bucket of ice cream.
If any of these ring a bell to you, you might have fallen into one of the most common types of cognitive distortion – All-or-nothing thinking.
In Dr. David Burns’s book – Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, he has listed ten cognitive distortions or thinking errors in our common daily life, including all-or-nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions, and self-blame.
These negative thoughts lead to our negative emotions, then lead to many mental health problems.
In the following blog series, let’s talk about these cognitive distortions one at a time.
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Table of Contents
What is Cognitive Distortion?
Cognition refers to all the mental actions of processing information, learning new knowledge, and thinking. Cognitive distortion, simply explain, is a faulty thinking pattern that tends to be negative, irrational, and biased.
This faulty thinking pattern can become our habitual way of thinking.
This means the flow of thoughts is usually automatic, and the thinking process is so fast that we usually failed to carefully evaluate the rationality of the thoughts.
It is believed in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that our core beliefs are the underlying factor for automatic thoughts.
What Are Core Beliefs?
Core beliefs are our central ideas about ourselves, others, and the world. Each of us has our own core beliefs based on our life experiences, interactions with our family, learnings, and many more.
Just like each wearing a different pair of lenses.
The pair of lenses you wear determines what type of world you see.
How our core beliefs impact, us is simply illustrated in the chart below.
We can see that with different core beliefs, the output can be vastly different.
Harmful core beliefs can directly impact our mental well-being and our interpersonal relationship.
Now we have a simple introduction to how our negative thinking pattern is formed, let’s zoom in on our main focus for the day. How to break all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking, also known as black-or-white thinking, or splitting, is a cognitive distortion where one divides the quality of something into either negative or positive, without perceiving it as a cohesive, realistic whole.
How Can We Reframe Our Thinking?
We can reframe our thinking through cognitive restructuring in 3 steps:
1. Be mindful and record it down
When you notice the negative emotions or absolute thoughts are here again. Write it down.
The first step is simply to be mindful.
As mentioned above, we are so used to the fast, automatic thinking process. Many times we did not even realize that we fall into the negative thinking trap again.
So the first thing we need to do is to slow the thinking process down. Notice the emotions we are feeling and what are the thoughts that lead to the feelings.
The best way is to write it down, so you can think more effectively and logically.
2. Question yourself and analyze the thoughts
Why do these thoughts make us depressed, anxious, and frightened?
If the thoughts are obviously biased, absurd, or negative in nature. We must question the rationality of our thoughts.
Write down all your doubts as well.
You can start by questioning your thoughts on these 5 aspects:
1. Objective analysis
What is the supportive evidence for this thought? and what are the against ones?
Is this thought based on a fact or just an opinion of myself?
2. Thinking from multiple aspects
Is what I see and generate representative of the whole picture?
3. What can be the best/worst scenario?
Picture in your mind the worst case possible that could happen. And now, balance that thought with the best-case scenario you will make come true.
4. Logical/rational reasoning
If I trust in my automatic thoughts, what could happen?
If I change this perspective, how will it benefit me?
5. View it from the third-party angle
If the same situation happens to my family and friends, do I think the same way? What would I say to them?
When we have any negative thoughts or black-and-white thinking, we can keep this habit by writing down our thoughts. Think from these 5 aspects.
Cultivating this habit for a long time can make us think more rationally and objectively, and eventually able to develop rational thinking as a habitual way of thinking.
3. Rebuttal and correction
This is the part where you will build new connections and thinking patterns.
Replace the negative ones with more rational and positive ones.
This can also help us to develop more positive thinking in the long run.
Resource For Practice
I have compiled today’s cognitive restructuring exercise for our subscribers. Download the practice sheets here (file name cognitive restructuring), you would see the practice sheet with a sample practice attached. Start practicing today.
There is no short path to reframing our thinking process, which has been there for such a long time. But we can always change our mindset to be a growing and better one.
If you spend some time doing the practice daily, you will definitely see great progress and improvement in overall wellbeing. Once your mindset has improved, you will see improvement in your emotions.
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