CBT Thinking Errors Part 3: Changing Our Thoughts- Disqualifying the Positive and Overgeneralization
In our final blog post of the series on thinking errors, we will discuss ways to overcome three different, yet interrelated cognitive distortions, including fortune telling, personalization and mind reading. It is important to remember as we close out this series that your thoughts are just that, thoughts. When we become overwhelmed by what enters our minds, it takes a moment to remember that we have control over how we relate to our thoughts. We have the power to decide what thoughts we hold onto and what thoughts we choose to let pass through. It is difficult to change our habits of thinking and just like any new skill, it takes time and practice.
Fortune telling is the cognitive distortion that occurs when you overestimate your ability to predict future events. Fortune telling can be incredibly harmful, leading to anxiety, stress, and even depression. And it can be tough to break the habit. We often do this without any real evidence to support our predictions. We might think that because we’re feeling down today, things will always be bad. Or, we might think that because we had a great day today, every day from now on will be great. This cognitive distortion can lead us to feel anxious or worried about the future. We may start to feel like we can’t control what happens, and that everything is out of our hands.
In order to overcome this thinking error, it is important to first be aware that we are in fact making predictions about the future and, therefore, cannot be 100% absolute in our presumptions as what it is we are predicting has not happened yet. Once we catch ourselves in the moment, we can take in all of the facts of the situation as well as gently challenge ourselves to take a step back in our mind and see if we are engaging in any absolute type thinking.
For instance, are we absolutely certain that in the past, every single math test we took resulted in a failure? Perhaps it might be helpful to evaluate how accurate we have been in the past with our predictions- we can not always be right. In these moments, there is an opportunity to explore our greatest fears and consider the most realistic outcome as well as ways of preventing our worst case scenarios.Personalization
Self-blame is often connected with the cognitive distortion known as ‘personalization’. In this way of thinking, we often take on responsibility for circumstances, arrangements, happenings and responses that are realistically out of our control. Often we are confronting our inner shame and negative core beliefs when tackling our habit of personalizing our experiences. Consider moments where we experienced disappointment and rationalized that the reason something did not work out was because we were not good enough, smart enough, prepared enough, attractive enough, and so on.
To overcome this thinking error, allow yourself to recognize that you are in fact blaming yourself excessively for things outside of your control. It might be difficult at first to acknowledge that your own thoughts are not representative of the whole truth and facts of a situation. Allow yourself to transform your own self-blame into self-compassion, by recognizing what may have been difficult, challenging or even out of your control and what that feels like.
It is also important to highlight that while we might think that we have the answer to the problem in front of us- with that answer always being ourselves as the issue- we often do not have all of the information necessary to make an informed assessment. One large component of this form of thinking is faulty beliefs that we are responsible for other people’s lives- their emotions, satisfaction, happiness, thoughts, behaviors, etc. Remember to remind yourself that you are not responsible for anything or anyone outside of yourself, only for how you react and respond to what is happening around you at any given moment.
Our final cognitive distortion that we will review in this blog post is known as ‘mind reading’. This thinking error is connected to personalization, in that there are times we may believe that we know what another person is thinking about us in a negative way. For instance, if someone gives us a blank stare, if we engage in mind reading, we might believe that the person is bored, unhappy or uninterested in what we have to say. In this way, we are overlooking other probable causes or reasons for why something might be taking place.
Allow yourself to take a step back in your mind and challenge yourself to come up with alternative reasonings. It may even be helpful to gather accurate information by talking to another person to clarify any behaviors or thoughts that you are making assumptions about. You might ask yourself whether or not your ability to ‘mind-read’ has provided you with helpful and accurate information in the past and if it is helpful to you in preventing harm.
You might find it helpful to visualize yourself in the future and what it could be like if you were to mind read less. You might also practice telling yourself that not everyone will approve of us or like us no matter what we do, how much we make or what we have achieved. Allow yourself to process this statement and shift your mind in moments when you are worrying about what others might be thinking.
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