In Part I we focused on understanding how thoughts influence mood. We then worked on skills to help identify negative thoughts, stop them and redirect them towards more helpful less mood damaging ways of thinking. Now we will take the understanding you have developed to the next level. We will look a little deeper into the different types of thought patterns and how they can be changed.
Thoughts can be categorized into subgroups based on various ‘themes’ or types called cognitive distortions. These distortions represent trends in how we view things. By identifying the category or trend in the thought process it helps you to become more skilled at fighting them. The common theme among these styles of thought is that they tend to lead to self-defeating thinking about yourself. Like before, our goal will be to develop more rational or realistic point of view of experiences day to day that helps rather than drags down your mood.
You see things in black-and-white categories; right or wrong; success or failure without paying attention to the many shades of gray in situations. So for example if you fall even a little short of the ideal goal you set; you see a total failure.
Seeing a single negative event as yet another example of a never-ending pattern of overall failure that applies to “everything” you do or try to accomplish.
In this case you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it instead of seeing the many positives. You tend to see things through the opposite of \"rose-colored glasses.\"
You reject positive experiences by insisting that they \"don\'t count\" for some reason or another. Instead of accepting credit for an accomplishment you play it off as luck, for example, rather that accepting that your personal skill was responsible for your success.
You often make negative interpretations of neutral events. Here are the two common types of this cognitive distortion.
You take a minor negative or neutral event and blow it out of proportion — you\'ve all heard the phrase \"Turning a mountain into a molehill.\"
You believe that just because you feel a certain way, it must be true. For example, if you feel anxious, this means that something terrible must be about to happen.
You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn\'ts, as if there is some greater moral or personal significance to doing or not doing something. This makes the thing seem far more important than it needs to be. Try saying \"I would like to finish that task\" or “I plan to finish it” instead of \"I should finish this” It sounds less punitive and less guilt-ridden.
Instead of describing an error objectively as simply something that happened, you attach a negative label to yourself in relation to it. For example, if you are unsuccessful at something, you tell yourself, \"I am a stupid failure\" instead of “I made an error”
This involves taking personal responsibility for things that are not under your control or influence or you assign personal meaning to situations that are not necessarily about you.
In most of these distorted thinking patterns there are some clear ways you can see to combat them based on the type of distortion you identified. We won’t explain every one since it is often clear based on the nature of the distortion what action you would take to overcome it. However, given that so often, a part of the issue will involve an all-or-nothing thought process we will take a moment to focus specifically on addressing all-or-nothing thinking.
All-or-nothing thinking can reduce our perceptions of the world to oversimplifications and extremes. It leads people to see things in black and white; all-or-none categories. For example, making a mistake in a project at work might be translated into you seeing yourself as totally incompetent. This in turn could result in more cognitive distortions like catastrophic thinking “I am going to get fired” or mind reading “Everyone thinks I am stupid now” or other faulty beliefs about ultimate failure. The emotional fallout might distract you so much that you make more mistakes. In many ways, this type of thinking puts you at risk for a simple human error growing into a cycle that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The core tool to fight all-or-nothing thinking involves breaking the black or white; right or wrong thought process. We call it matter-of-degree thinking. Matter-of-degree thinking helps you see the shades of gray by applying rational arguments to all-or-nothing thoughts. This forces your mind to see things according to the facts and to separate out emotion-based reactions such as \"I am a failure\" from the reality of a situation. This in turn interrupts the negative emotional cycle.
Step 1: Recognize the all-or-nothing thought.
Step 2: Stop that thought by replacing it with a statement like \"Stop\" or \"Wait a minute.\" (The actual words you use to stop the thought don\'t matter. Choose something that works for you.)
Step 3: Use matter-of-degree thinking to question the truth of the all-or-nothing thought: \"Is it true that this mistake is a signal of total failure, or is it a minor issue and easily corrected?\"
Step 4: Replace the all-or-nothing thought with something more rational. Choose a thought that is more accurate and based on fact rather than emotion. “Sure it was a pretty big error, but it can be corrected.” “People all make mistakes.” We do recognize that there are occasionally catastrophic errors and its harder to apply this when that is the case. But those are rare compared to the number of times we ‘create’ catastrophe where there realistically is none.
The actual words and rational arguments that are the most effective will vary among different people. There is no right way to do this — just apply the basic principles, see what works or does not for you, and adjust accordingly. Trust your instincts. You have the power to help yourself. It takes practice but the more you do this, the more natural it feels until at some point it happens as automatically as the negative thinking used to occur.
When you notice yourself thinking in black-and-white terms, such as failure or success, open your mind to more realistic possibilities, including the natural learning process we all go through in working toward success.
Recognize that there is a range that lies between every pair of opposites. For instance, there are many levels of emotion between happy and sad. The same goes for good and bad, and success and failure.
Don\'t hold yourself to impossibly high standards. When you set impractical goals for yourself, you are inevitably setting yourself up for failure, not success.
It\'s important to develop a balanced perception of reality. Intelligent people sometimes make mistakes. An overall bad experience might have had some good moments. A family member or spouse or coworker may occasionally be insensitive but is still a very loving or supportive person.
As a concept, perfection is ridiculous in the context of being human. Nobody can achieve perfection, yet we all seem to try over and over. Who on this planet can achieve success in all circumstance, all of the time? No matter how good we are at something and even when the outcome of someone’s effort appears flawless; as humans there are always errors made and errors coped with along the way. It’s all about how we react, cope and adjust to a flaw that leads to positive outcomes.
The term Perfectionism is more about the BELIEF that you MUST BE perfect. This is a feeling that no matter how well you do something, it\'s never good enough. In small doses, perfectionism can be a useful, and even desirable, quality. It can drive a person to achieve a certain amount of success and competence. However, in its more pronounced forms, it is actually more destructive than it is productive. Perfectionists often set unrealistic goals. They frequently lack creative problem-solving skills to address obstacles to their unrealistic goals and give up prematurely. Perfectionism often leads to other cognitive distortions and at its worst can result in such a strong fear of failure that it can completely stop a person from achieving anything at all. It\'s also likely to hurt self-esteem along the way because the perfectionist is never satisfied with his or her personal performance or achievements. If not addressed, perfectionism may lead to feelings of hopelessness or depression, since it\'s impossible for perfectionists to experience success, given the unrealistically high expectations they set for themselves.