28 Cognitive Distortions

Sometimes our minds play tricks on us. They can convince us that untrue things are true, or vice versa.

Cognitive distortions are bad mental habits. They’re patterns of thinking that tend to be negatively slanted, inaccurate, and often repetitive.

These unhelpful ways of thinking can limit one’s ability to function and excel in the world. Cognitive distortions are linked to anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders. They reinforce negative thinking loops, which tend to compound and worsen over time.

Cognitive distortionExplanationExample
all-or-nothing thinkingviewing everything in absolute and extremely polarized terms"nothing good ever happens" or "I'm always behind"
blamingfocusing on other people as source of your negative feelings, & refusing to take responsibility for changing yourself; or conversely, blaming yourself harshly for things that were out of your control
catastrophizingbelief that disaster will strike no matter what, and that what will happen will be too awful to bear"What if tragedy strikes?" "What if it happens to me?"
counterfactual thinkingA kind of mental bargaining or longing to live in the alternate timeline where one had made a different decision"If only I could have done it differently..."
dichotomous thinkingviewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms
discounting positivesclaiming that positive things you or others do are trivial, or ignoring good things that have happened to you
emotional reasoningletting feelings guide interpretation of reality; a way of judging yourself or your circumstances based on your emotions"If I feel that way, it must be true"
filteringmentally "filters out" the positive aspects of a situation while magnifying the negative aspects
fortune-tellingpredicting the future negatively
framing effectstendency for decisions to be shaped by inconsequential features of choice problems
halo effectbelief that one's success in a domain automagically qualifies them to have skills and expertise in other areas
illusory correlationtendency to perceive a relationship between two variables when no relation existshttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_correlation
inability to disconfirmreject any evidence or arguments that might contradict negative thoughts
intuitive heuristicstendency when faced with a difficult question of answering an easier question instead, typically without noticing the substitution
just-world hypothesisbelief that good things tend to happen to good people, while bad things tend to happen to bad people
labelingassigning global negative traits to self & others; making a judgment about yourself or someone else as a person, versus seeing the behavior as something they did that doesn't define them as an individual
ludic fallacyin assessing the potential amount of risk in a system or decision, mistaking the real randomness of life for the well-defined risk of casinos
magical thinkinga way of imagining you can wish reality into existence through the sheer force of your mind. Part of a child developmental phase that not everyone grows out of.http://doctorparadox.net/essays/magical-thinking/
magnificationexaggerating the importance of flaws and problems while minimizing the impact of desirable qualities and achievements
mind readingassuming what someone is thinking w/o sufficient evidence; jumping to conclusions
negative filteringfocusing exclusively on negatives & ignoring positives
nominal realismchild development phase where names of objects aren't just symbols but intrinsic parts of the objects. Sometimes called word realism, and related to magical thinking
overgeneralizingmaking a rule or predicting globally negative patterns on the basis of single incident
projectionattributing qualities to external actors or forces that one feels within and either a) wishes to promote and have echoed back to onself, or b) eradicate or squelch from oneself by believing that the quality exists elsewhere, in others, but not in oneself
provincialismthe tendency to see things only from the point of view of those in charge of our immediate in-groups
shouldsa list of ironclad rules one lives and punishes oneself by"I should exercise more" "I should eat better"
teleological fallacyillusion that you know exactly where you're going, knew exactly where you were going in the past, & that others have succeeded in the past by knowing where they were goingacademia especially is rife with this one
what if?keep asking series of ?s on prospective events & being unsatisfied with any answers