Monday, August 13, 2007

10 Distorted Thinking Patterns

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, David Burns highlights 10 distorted thinking patterns that work against a healthy outlook on life.

Distorted Thinking Patterns (Cognitive Distortions)

  • All-Or-Nothing Thinking - You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  • Overgeneralization - You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  • Mental Filter - You pick out a single negative defeat and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that colors the entire beaker of water.
  • Disqualifying the positive - You dismiss positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  • Jumping to conclusions - You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    A. Mind reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you dn't bother to check this out.
    B. The fortune teller error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  • Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization- You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the "binocular trick."
  • Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true.
  • Should Statements - You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  • Labeling and Mislabeling - This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: "He's a goddam louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  • Personalization - You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Key Take Aways
I think the key is to use this list to challenge your own thinking. In any scenario where your thinking starts to seem particularly negative, it's good to sanity check against the patterns above.

My Related Posts


Anonymous said...

This is great. I recognize those feelings in myself. I'm going to print this out and examine my thoughts.

iamjerry1 said...

Your readers will also likely enjoy this follow-up to your excellent postings. It is a copy of Dr. Harriet Braiker's 1989 "Power of Self-Talk" article, which appeared in Psychology Today magazine. I share it with each of my new patients. The .doc file is hosted by UCLA here:

To simplify your overall health care, by improving your emotional health with psychology-related links, E-books, hypnosis and other FREE self-help programs, try visiting

Jerry Solfanelli

J.D. Meier said...

Great suggestion Jerry! I gave Dr. Bralker's article a quick read and found it insightful, pragmatic and actionable. It's true timeless advice.

Jennifer said...

Learning to identify thinking errors was one of the best things I have ever done. Some other thinking errors include:

blaming - placing blame on others, things or situations and finding fault with them.

polarized thinking - everythng is either good or bad.

Mind reading - concluding what others think and do without proof.