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10 Things Standing Between You And Feeling Good The 10 Mental Distortions of Cognitive Therapy

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In his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Dr. David Burns discusses the 10 ways of thinking that are responsible for most of our everyday emotional problems, particularly depression, guilt, and self-loathing. He called them The 10 Mental Distortions.


Dr. Burns derived this list of mental distortions from the relatively new, but very promising, field of Cognitive Therapy. Cognitive therapy is a school of psychotherapy that is based on the premise that our feelings are primarily dependent on, and directly related to, our thoughts. And so, by modifying the way we think about certain things, we can feel better about them.


I find this notion well-justified, and it's definitely been doing me a great deal of good. But I'd like to amend the previous definition by saying that, cognitive therapy is the systematic attempt to convince people that their problems are not as bad as they seem to be.


Don't get me wrong, this is not criticism. In fact, it's praise. I believe that, so long as we're feeling depressed or emotionally confused, we can't really "think straight." At least that's how it is for me and a good deal of the people I know. So a temporary cheering-up may be just what we need to get a grip on our mental "good sense" enough to see a situation for what it is, analyze it objectively (relatively at least), and come up with good solutions.


And so here's the list of 10 mental distortions Dr. Burns discussed, along with my own brief commentary on them...



1) All-or-Nothing Thinking


In other words, perfectionism. You either do something extremely brilliantly, or you consider it a total failure. There are no compromises, no settling, and "good enough" is not in your vocabulary. Of course, that's a first-class ticket to the Land of Everlasting Disappointment.


And the remedy is very simple. Just remember that, because of the very definition of perfection, no human being can make something that is absolutely perfect. So unless you believe yourself to be an alien or a descendant of Zeus, have fun with creating things that are good enough.



2) Over-generalization


This is a diluted form of the all-or-nothing thinking. You apply for a job and the employer tells you that you're not qualified, and so you become convinced that every other employer will tell you the exact same thing. A girl/guy declines your asking them out on a date, and you conclude that no girl/guy will ever accept your invitation.


The trick here is to resist the tendency to hypothesize patterns from individual events. Perhaps that employer had a fight with his wife that morning and just wanted to take it out on the job applicants. Perhaps that girl already had a boyfriend.


Sure, there will be many times when something will be your fault, but don't think that's the rule. Even professional prostitutes don't "blow" all day long, you know (ahem!)



3) Negative Mental Filtering


We all fall into this trap every now and then. Someone does something horrible to us, and we start thinking that all people are mean-spirited bastards. We discover that we had the wrong answer to one of ten questions in an exam, and we start obsessing about how we're now doomed to flunking it.


The fully we commit here is that we forget that it's never really all bad. We meet a lot of amazing folks, so it's impossible that everyone is a bastard. You missed one question, but you still got the other 9 right. So stop focusing on the negatives and try to remember the good stuff as well.



4) Disqualifying the Positive


That's basically the reverse of mental filtering. A friend comments on how good your new hairstyle looks, and you just shrug it off assuming they don't really mean it and that they're just being nice. A car has a great body and incredibly comfy seats, but because it only has a 1300 c.c. engine you conclude that it's a piece of trash.


When you catch yourself thinking this way, ask yourself this question: "Just because a rose has thorn, must that prevent from you noticing how good it smells?"



5) Jumping to Conclusions


You might think that only people with lower-than-average IQ do this, but it's actually much more common among smart folks, because of how fast their brains usually work and how confident they tend to be of their conclusions.


There are two types of jumping to conclusions...

Mind Reading: which is assuming that you completely understand how another person thinks. But even if this were true (and it usually isn't), you can't know everything that's happening to them on their day-to-day lives. These things will definitely affect their moods and behaviors in ways you can never fully predict. So give people the benefit of the doubt and don't be embarrassed to ask them about the things that are bothering you.


Fortune Telling: this is mind-reading extrapolated to the future. You know what a situation is like right now, so you believe that you absolutely know how it's going to turn out a month or a year from now. If you're that type, perhaps it's time for you to study some chaos dynamics.

6) Magnifying the Negatives and Minimizing the Positives


Again, these are the diluted forms of distortions 3 and 4. Here you don't solely focus on the negatives or completely ignore the positives, but you trick yourself into skewing the balance by blowing up the bad stuff and marginalizing the good stuff. So just get things into perspective.



7) Emotional Reasoning


You try hard to write that important presentation for a whole week, but it just won't get done. You become so frustrated that you tell yourself that you're an uncreative sloth. Which only makes you procrastinate more and completely cuts off the flow of ideas. Why?


That's Cognitive Therapy 101. Thoughts create emotions, which feedback into the thought process itself, imprisoning you inside a vicious cycle. So instead of thinking you're lazy and unimaginative, think back to the last time you felt particularly inventive and were on a productive roll. It might be just what you need to unleash your energy and get your creative juices going.



8) Should Statements


This is the ultimate culprit almost every time you get disappointed in someone or something. You tell yourself that Mary should treat you more nicely, or that life is so hard on you and you deserve better.


Trrrrrrrn! That was your wake up call! Nobody said that life was fair, and people don't really owe you anything. If you want to do something nice for someone, that's great, but don't expect them to return the favor. Maybe they'd like to, but they can't for some reason. Maybe that's just how they are. Maybe they have a different set of values and beliefs. So roll with the punches.



9) Labeling


Lobna invites you to her house for dinner. But with her kids screaming and kicking all day long, she misses an important ingredient of her special recipe, and the food turn into a positively horrid mush. You take one bite, spit it out, and label Lobna the Worst Cook Ever.


Now here's the thing. If you do believe that she really is the worst cook ever, you won't accept her invitation ever again, and you just might miss out on the time she gets her recipe right and makes the most delicious dinner of the 21st century! That's loss no.1.


Plus, you know that you've tasted worse food before, so Lobna can't really be the worst cook, and you'll be contradicting yourself. It might not be a big deal when it comes to culinary products, but it will definitely become important in bigger issues, such as marriages, friendships, politics, etc.


Labeling is an extreme form of over-generalization that completely strips your thinking of any objectivity. So kids, don't do labeling!



10) Personalization


That is the classic Atlas Syndrome, when you hold yourself responsible (and blamable) for everything that does wrong with the world.


My sister had a car accident? I knew I should have driven her to the airport. My good neighbor has been in the hospital for 5 days and nobody told me? Damn it, I'm such a bad neighbor not to have checked up on him more often. Britney Spears has a new album out? I should have worked on my sniper-skills earlier. A gigantic asteroid is going to hit the planet, eradicate all life and bring about Armageddon? It's my fault, I've always known that my true calling was to be an astronaut!


Get off it, buddy. Superman only works his magic in comic strips. Guilt doesn't do anyone any good. Instead, when you're sure that whatever went wrong is actually your fault, make up for it being straightening it out. That's productive repentance.






So these are the 10 mental distortions. Again, I don't really believe that they're always pure evil. In fact, sometimes these thoughts are justified, perhaps even necessary. But overall, it's generally better for you to convince yourself that they're bad, for two reasons...

They make you feel bad, which is not so good, and...

They confuse your thinking process and build a great wall between you and objective, constructive thinking.

So while cognitive therapy may not be the panacea for all your emotional problems, it's probably a very good pragmatic approach. So give it a shot and see how it works for you.

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Looks like I am classified to be one of those who hasn't felt good lately. Actually, thats the metal part of it, which is great to exercise a positive feeling so that everything else flows like air. There are always 3rd party distractions involve and there is no way that could be reversed like, physical health, home economics, environment and the people around you. Its just lucky to have a very pleasant a positive day. Not all of these shrinks experience so much struggle in their lives that could guide us to do something we always feel like doing. What I like to do it to get a friend, a very good friend, do something crazy, and everything will be fine, you'll feel a little bit more positive in life. ;)

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If my actions start from me for the purpose of satisfying my needs with my certain x goal in mind, then the above points affect me as you explained. Its no wonder or magic, its science. However, If I carry my actions saying that.. "I do this to satisfy the HIGHER order and HIS will", everything disappears ;) Everything becomes relaxed and calm..Peace.

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I get a beer, spend time with family, go out and do something new, or do something that's borderline trouble with new people, play games or do something else that new to me (first time watching a movie, traveling, trying something new on a menu, taking a chance). In the end regardless of how positive the experience was at least I did something new, which is GOOD. ;)

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