Cognitive distortions, which are overly rigid patterns in thinking, undermine our resilience, well-being, and productive emotions in a situation. They can come from overly rigid ways of explaining our successes and setbacks, or from errors in logic that lead to inaccurate beliefs that are counterproductive. Overly rigid thinking influences how we interpret situations and makes it harder for us to see our current situation accurately. Understanding and recognizing our cognitive distortions is important because how we think and our beliefs about events drive our behaviors, emotions, and physiological responses.
A cognitive distortion (also known as a thinking trap) we often get caught in is the mindreading trap. With this trap, you already believe that you know exactly what is going on in someone else’s mind. You may also believe that others should know what is going on in your mind. This has a negative impact on relationships, and in turn, hurts resiliency. After all, resiliency is strengthened by connections with others.
Me vs. Them
The second cognitive distortion is the “me vs. them” trap. The “me trap” happens when you believe that everything is your fault– you are the sole cause of your setbacks and problems. The “them trap” happens when you think that other people or circumstances are the sole cause of your setbacks. Both traps are not healthy and do not promote resilience because you are either blaming yourself for setbacks, or not noticing how you played a role in a problem.
Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion where you waste critical energy ruminating and thinking about worst-case scenarios. Rumination blocks you from taking any action towards solving problems and causes you to overestimate the threat and underestimate your coping resources.
Helplessness happens when you believe that a negative event is going to impact all areas of your life– bad things are here to stay and will ruin all aspects of your life. Feelings of helplessness can stem from feeling like you have no control over a situation, which can create feelings of hopelessness. Focusing on things you can control in a situation can help you feel more optimistic about tackling a problem.
Overcoming Cognitive Distortions
So what can we do to overcome these thinking traps and become more resilient? We need to challenge ourselves to think more productively and dispute the thoughts that are getting in our way of responding to adversity effectively.
There are a few simple things we can do to overcome cognitive distortions– using evidence, reframing, and planning.
- When you hear a thinking trap, use data and evidence to show that it is not true. Try saying to yourself, “That’s not true because…”
- Reframe the way you are perceiving the situation and use optimism. Say to yourself, “A more helpful way to see this is…”
- Plan ahead for when you are catastrophizing. By creating a contingency plan (e.g. “If x happens, I will y”), you will feel more prepared and relaxed going into a stressful situation.
This list of cognitive distortions is far from exhaustive; you would be surprised how many different ways your mind can interpret situations inaccurately. TLC-VR is here to help you overcome these overly rigid, irrational ways of thinking and become more productive and more resilient.