The lenses through which we view the world, also known as cognitive distortions, have the power to shape our perspective and influence our decisions. Just like other lenses in eyeglasses, microscopes, cameras, etc. our own lenses need to be adjusted over time.
We experience the world through sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. But with information overload, the mind starts to delete, modify and generalise information both on the conscious and the unconscious levels. What remains is then filtered through our past experiences, our values and beliefs, resulting in several versions of reality; some more accurate than others.
Knowing our cognitive distortions and how they shape our perspective is key to avoiding disappointments, managing conflict and focusing our time and effort in the right direction. Establishing a positive mindset is relatively easy, but first we need to understand our cognitive distortions and how they affect us.
Research by Aaron T. Beck, the father of cognitive therapy, shows that automatic thoughts cause misinterpretations, and there is a series of these cognitive distortions in all of us.
- All or Nothing – seeing things as black or white, right or wrong, perfect or imperfect.
- Overgeneralizing – using words like “always” or “never”.
- Mental Filter – dwelling on the negative, and allowing it to spoil the moment.
- Discounting the Positive – not acknowledging your accomplishments and saying anyone could’ve done it.
- Jumping to Conclusions – making negative assumptions about people and how they see you, without evidence.
- Magnification or Minimization – seeing things and situations much more or much less than they really are.
- Emotional Reasoning – assuming something is true just because you feel it.
- Should Statements – telling yourself you “should”, “need to”, “must”, “ought to” … and then feeling guilty when you don’t follow through.
- Labelling – attaching a negative label to yourself, like “I’m a failure” instead of saying “I made a mistake”.
- Blame and Personalization – blaming yourself when you weren’t entirely responsible, or blaming other people and denying your own role.
One of the biggest obstacles to personal transformation is the notion that we are wired a certain way and there’s nothing we can do about it. That idea in itself is a cognitive distortion, and every day there are people who defy it by challenging their limitations and going beyond their comfort zones. What has been learned can be unlearned. The same way that a dirty or out of focus lens can be cleaned or adjusted, cognitive distortions can be made better.