Reduce anxiety and depression by challenging common cognitive distortions
Do you often find yourself in a cycle of complaining, low mood and persistent pessimism?
You may be trapped by the cognitive distortion of mental filtering!
The thinking trap of mental filtering is one of the hardest thinking traps to recognize as it covertly starts to guide our mind to “cherry pick” what information we take in from the world around us, and unfortunately this typically means only seeing the negative.
Negative mental filtering starts to impact how we view situations and others. Such as paying attention to the few bored looking faces when making a presentation (opposed to noticing that the majority of the class was engaged and actively listening!) or paying attention and adding up the times that a partner was late or forgot something (but not counting all the support and attention they have given you).
Mental filtering also shapes our global beliefs about ourselves. We can start to focus only on our failures and inadequacies and filter out our triumphs and successes. This ultimately shapes our self-perception and identity, perpetuating avoidance behaviours, feelings of panic, being overwhelmed, loneliness and isolation.
In order to get out of this cognitive trap, we need to train our brain into developing alternative thinking routes, and one of the best ways to do this is to practice reframing.
Here are a few tips:
1. Don’t aim for the positive…at least not right away.
This may sound weird, but people who experience negative thoughts and negative narratives understand how fake and inauthentic it is to “just think positive” (because they have tried this pop psychology fad and it doesn’t work!). When we try to jump straight to the positive, it feels like we are lying to ourselves…and our negative selves are quick to point this out.
2. Aim for neutral.
In this light, you are not supporting the positive or negative, rather you are trying to step into an unbiased role. When we engage in “thinking neutrally” we have already begun to open up a new perceptive. This in itself has started to challenge our thought distortions.
3. Tell yourself the truth.
Once you have opened up the pathway for a new perception, be honest with yourself. Ask yourself: What actually happened? What do I really see and feel? Why am I only seeing one point of view? What have I missed?
Provide yourself a new thought such as: “I felt bad when I saw a few classmates that were bored at my presentation, and it brought up some old insecurities. However, many other classmates were actively listening and taking notes. If I am being honest with myself, it did feel good to get such engaged questions at the end that spurred a class discussion”
Creating alternative thinking routes is hard and takes time! So use lots of self-compassion and don’t hesitate to reach out for support.