We all have patterns in how we think. This comes from growing and adapting within our life experiences. Over time, our brains start to develop and adopt various thinking patterns. Some of these patterns are helpful, like always looking both ways before crossing the street. Unfortunately, many of us also develop some maladaptive ways of thinking along the way. These cognitive distortions can become so engrained that we often don’t even recognize them as they occur. However, by raising awareness of our thoughts and the narratives, we can begin to discern these distorted patterns.
Identifying Common Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) refers to these unhelpful thinking patterns as cognitive distortions. Enough people in the world have experienced these maladaptive thinking patterns that we’ve been able to create some specific categories. Recognizing our own thought patterns allows us to pinpoint any cognitive distortions so we can start to change them. Let’s delve into some of the most prominent cognitive distortions.
All-or-Nothing Thinking: A Struggle for Balance
Many of you know me as “The all-or-none queen”. That’s because this is one of the distorted cognitive patterns that most affects me. All-or-nothing thinking hinges on extremes. We perceive situations as either entirely successful or wholly worthless. This distorted thinking leaves little room for middle ground. This type of thinking often surfaces during tasks or projects, where we initially set grandiose plans but give up at the first sign of imperfection. It’s the “go big or go home” mentality. It feels great when we can actually be all in, but more often than not, we tend to fall a little short of perfection. Learning to embrace progress, even if it’s not flawless, can counteract this distortion.
Should Statements: The Ultimate Cognitive Distortion
A few years ago I was at a training and noticed that someone had written “Stop shoulding on yourself” in big bold letters on the white board. I couldn’t tell you what that actual training was about but this phrase has been imprinted in my mind ever since. We, all of us, often imprison ourselves with “should” statements. These internal judgments only serve to breed guilt and anxiety. For instance, replaying what we “should have done” in the past robs us of the present moment. Recognizing this futile form of thinking and focusing on constructive steps forward can hopefully help us stop shoulding on ourselves so much.
Catastrophizing: From Worry to Empowerment
Catastrophizing involves envisioning the worst possible outcomes for situations. Here’s the thing, there is actually a lot of value in staying alert and prepared. It can be very helpful, if not vital to our survival, to be able to assess potential outcomes to life’s scenarios. But in it’s extreme form, this pessimistic approach stifles progress and breeds unnecessary stress. When we start to obsess over and believe solely in the worst case scenario it can cause us to freeze or shut down. By learning to confront and challenge these exaggerated fears, we can regain control and replace them with more balanced perspectives.
Shifting Mindsets with CBT
The essence of CBT lies in rewiring thought patterns to encourage healthier emotions and behaviors. By identifying cognitive distortions and questioning their validity, we gain the power to transform our mindsets. This shift extends to the realm of self care as well. The link between cognitive distortions and self care is profound. With the rise of self care trending on social media, we are constantly inundated with posts about the luxurious side of self care.
It can seem like the only way to practice self care is to do something fancy that takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. It limits our understanding of the concept of self care as a whole. If what we learn becomes what we think, then it makes sense that self care tends to seem overwhelming and unattainable. Shifting our perceptions of self care can open doors to a more attainable and fulfilling practice. Instead of being so “all-or-none” and only associating self care with unattainable perfection, we need to start recognizing the everyday basic acts of self care that already exist.
Putting It All Together
Anytime you can pause and think about something differently, you are basically practicing CBT. When we can work to change our thoughts about something, we change out feelings about it, and our actions tend to follow suit. So take a minute to recognize how you think about the concept of self care. What thoughts and/or images pop into your head? Anything that comes up that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, insecure, uncertain, unproductive, lazy, or panicked is not a helpful thought. Try experimenting with some other ways of thinking about self care. Chances are it will help you feel better, and ultimately help you lean in more to this whole self care thing.