Happiness Isn’t Brain Surgery Podcast Episode 42: Cognitive Distortions


Welcome to happiness isn’t brain surgery
with Dr. Snipes. This podcast was created to provide you
the information and tools Doc Snipes gives her clients so that you too can
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apply what you learn. Go to DocSnipes.com to learn more. Hi everybody and
welcome to happiness isn’t brain surgery with Doc Snipes: Practical tools to
improve your mood and quality of life. Today we’re going to talk about
cognitive distortions and there are a bunch of them but we’re going to focus
on the 10 most common ones and how they can make you miserable and likewise what
you can do to combat them so let’s start with what is misery well misery
typically we think of as anger fear and depression those three big unpleasant
emotions well anger and fear are responses to a
threat it’s your body saying you either need to fight or flee depression is a
response to a loss or a sense of hopelessness and helplessness depression
tells us that oh we’re really sad that that’s not there anymore that we don’t
have it if you never got depressed about anything not saying we want to be
depressed all the time but what we’re depressed or sad for a moment it shows
that something was meaningful to us it doesn’t need to be considered something
that’s it’s bad depression tells us oh that was important and I’m gonna I’m sad
that it’s not there anymore or that things have changed when we have one of
these feelings anger fear or depression it’s our brains way of telling us that
there might be a problem now there’s an emphasis on might it
doesn’t mean that there is based on prior learning experiences for example
if you know you saw me and I was across the room because I tend to talk with my
hands a lot and I tend to be very animated if you had a history of coming
from somewhere where there was a lot of domestic violence you may think that I
was angry and I was being aggressive which may trigger a fear response in you
based on your prior learning but the key is to check it and say is this actually
a threat right now is this is my brain interpreting what’s going on correctly
when we accept these unpleasant feelings without question we often feel
unpleasantness unnecessarily a lot of times our brain is wrong it says there
might be a problem and but there really isn’t so for example when I’m home alone
at night and I hear a noise outside you know my heart starts beating a little
bit faster if the dog start to bark at like crazy you know I start thinking is
there somebody outside well I gotta check that you know I could sit there
and be scared and be be worried and nervous all night long or I could get up
and check it and go oh you know what it was just the wind and go on with my day
and it wouldn’t be a big thing so it’s important to check yourself so we’re
going to talk about three examples in this presentation just because they’re
common things that come up but we’re also going to talk about the distortions
and how you can apply them to your own thinking so the three examples were
going to talk about today John saw that his wife had been frequently calling his
best friend and became enraged Sally had to give a presentation and was just
terrified and Heather broke up with her boyfriend and was devastated so we’ve
got anger fear and depression here that we’re going to talk about and like I
said these are not going to cover all the situations but I want you to see how
situations when they’re not jet can lead you to unnecessary misery so look what
are these cognitive distortions well cognitive means thoughts and
distortions means kind of out of whack so sometimes we think of things or think
in ways that aren’t exactly accurate we distort the truth so to speak they often
say that truth or reality is 90% how we perceive what’s going on and 10% what
actually happened so 90% is a lot so our perceptions mean a lot our
learning experiences mean a lot you know children when they’re young and they’re
learning they may not understand things because they don’t have those prior
learning experiences so they may not realize something as dangerous and they
may not get afraid when they should as adults we tend to get afraid when we
don’t need to so it’s important to be able to be mindful of how we’re feeling
and our environment to go are we safe so the first cognitive distortion is all or
nothing thinking and most of us engage in this periodically when we use words
like always never every single time those kinds of
phrases may emphasize what’s going on and it may seem like something happens a
lot but that’s not every single time rarely does something happen every
single time or Never so you want to go and look for the
exceptions so if you never take my feelings into account when you know
something is happening well is that true does that person never take your
feelings into account or is it something they frequently don’t do but sometimes
they take your feelings into account and we want to really look at how
frequent these things happen sometimes we overlook the positive and we’re going
to talk about that in a little while but sometimes you know somebody may take
your feelings into account a lot of the time on a daily basis but then there are
a couple big glaring episodes big glaring incidents where they didn’t take
your feelings into account and you’re remembering those and
forgetting all the good all the other times that the person did take your
feelings into account so try to eliminate extreme words from your
vocabulary instead of always or never use the word sometimes personalization
means you’re taking things and saying well you made this happen you made me
feel bad you’re angry at me so if you’re walking down the hallway at work and
maybe your coworker gives you a dirty look
and you may automatically take that personally and you may say oh my gosh
what did i do why did i make her angry or on the other hand you may say what is
that person’s problem how dare they give me this nasty look I was trying to be
nice either way whether it’s anger or apprehension that’s an unpleasant
emotion that you may not need to be feeling the person may have been
thinking about something and often while Island is what I like to call it while
they’re walking down the hall and that facial expression may have had to do
with what they were thinking about and they didn’t even see you there
think about it have you ever walked down the hall and just kind of not noticed
what was going on because you were stuck in your own mind imagine what kind of
facial expressions you make my daughter catches me with that occasionally I’ll
be checking my email or something and I’ll look up and I’ll have a look like I
just swallowed a sour lemon and you know she’s like why were you making that ugly
look at someone said I’m like huh I didn’t know I mean ugly looked at
anybody and so you need to kind of pay attention not only to what other people
are doing and if they do something that makes you angry or feels hurtful or you
know makes you scared that you offended them or something check it and go you
know is it about me when you go through cash cashiers Lane
you know if the cashier is exceptionally rude it happens you know I tried to step
back and go what are three reasons besides the fact that the person just
didn’t like me for some reason what are three reasons this person may have been
rude to me maybe they’d been having a really bad
day and they just were in that kind of a mood had nothing to do with me maybe
their boss had just gotten on to them and they were kind of in a funk and they
were angry at their boss and it was just still bleeding over or maybe that’s just
the way they are I mean in their head they live in a very dark unhappy place
and they’re not nice to anybody you know I try to look at what are the possible
other explanations and y’all know I like the number three so I look for three
explanations Asians magnification and catastrophizing
so something happens and you’re like oh my gosh I lost my job or I got laid off
now I’m going to lose my health insurance I’m gonna lose my house I’m
gonna be homeless living in my car you know you just go from zero to 120 in
no time flat well that just makes you miserable how likely is it that all
those things are going to happen could they happen well yeah possibly and you
could get struck by lightning during the next thunderstorm how likely is that to
happen pretty darn unlikely so when you start
feeling yourself getting revved up like the sky is going to fall stop yourself
and go okay let’s look at the evidence not how I’m feeling about what’s going
on but let’s look at the factual evidence for and against my thought that
this thing is going to end up being the worst thing in the world what is the
evidence for it for and against it so I can weigh it and decide how likely is
this to happen you know when I look at the objective evidence number four is
your fallacy of fairness or heavens reward and they’re kind of different but
they’re kind of the same the fallacy of fairness is when you believe that things
should happen because everything in the world is fair well hang it up it ain’t
everything in the world is not fair or you know we’d all be five foot eleven
blond-haired blue-eyed supermodels you know it and the playing field would be
level that’s just not how it is it’s not fair sometimes so you need to
think about it in terms of what do you have and an attitude of gratitude
heavens reward is a little bit different and it says that if you do something
good good should come back to you it’s Karma have been to reward you know it’s
not fair if you do good things and you don’t get good things back either way
however you want to look at it except what you did get you know if you do
something and you know you get a smile back maybe you were hoping for more but
you got a smile that’s great but what else did you get
did you get a warm feeling inside did it make you feel better about yourself
when you look at whether things are fair or unfair take a look at other people
you know look around you you’ll probably find that you’re better off than a lot
of other people so you know in the big scheme of things you know you’ve got a
lot to be grateful for maybe some things aren’t fair and they aren’t however you
can focus on that which is gonna make you miserable because you can’t change
it you can’t make life fair or you can choose to focus on the good things in
your life and what you do have control over
number five is filtering and a lot of us especially if you’re depressed or you’re
anxious or you’re angry or you just tend to be more on the negative side tend to
disqualify the positive so when something good happens it’s like well of
course that was gonna happen and when something bad happens it’s like oh my
gosh disqualifying the positive also means disqualifying your good trait so
you focus on all the things you do wrong but not on all the things you do right
it’s important to look at both of them and next week when we talk about
dialectics we’re gonna talk about always looking at both sides always looking at
the good and the bad because things can be going really well in some areas of
your life and really crappy in a couple others so are you going to get all upset
and say my life is just over its miserable cuz a couple things are going
bad even though you know five other things are going pretty well
or are you going to look at those things that are going well going well I’ve got
all this stuff going for me alright we need to focus on these other couple of
things and figure out how to fix them so you don’t want to disqualify the
positive whether it’s the positive things about you the positive things
that you do and the same thing is true if you are a parent or a supervisor or
even a friend when you’re talking to people a lot of times we forget to give
them kudos for things they do well and we only
focus on the things they do wrong you didn’t get your paperwork in on time or
your room wasn’t clean or this or that instead of going awesome job ideally you
want to have three to five awesome jobs in there for every critique so you know
try to start doing that each week with the people that are important to you
when you see them you know congratulate them on things thank them for things
make sure to give them kudos for the good things and do the same thing to
yourself at the end of each day look back over the day and go what did I do
that was nice what did I do that was good what did I do that helped me move
toward my goals and yeah you may have done some other things that didn’t help
but focus on the things that did so you because you’re naturally gonna remember
the things that you forgot to do or didn’t do well that helps you get more
balanced and when you have more balance it doesn’t seem like life is so out of
control and so negative number six is over generalization which is kind of
like all-or-nothing but over generalization is when you take one
thing and assume that every other incident is going to be that way so for
example if when you were in high school you had to give a speech and you really
flub the speech and it was just an awful embarrassing experience and you assume
that every time you’ve got to get up in front of people
henceforth and forevermore it’s gonna go just as poorly that’s over
generalization that’s taking at one instance and assuming that it’s going to
apply to everything if somebody is unpleasant to you you know again you’ve
got to think to yourself maybe it’s a co-worker and oh that person is just the
meanest most nasty person ever okay or was that a specific day in a specific
episode maybe that person got up late had a flat tire you know got to work got
in trouble something else happened and they were just in a funk
that day so do you want to assume that they’re like that always in every
situation or do you want to say well maybe
that was just a bad day let’s see what they’re like tomorrow so try not to over
general as over generalize the past does not have to repeat itself if you get
into relationships you know you can say every time I get into a relationship it
ends up in disaster well that’s all or nothing thinking every time is one of
those extreme words so you want to look for the exceptions but you also don’t
want to over generalize and assume that every relationship you get into is going
to be a failure you want to look at each relationship
that you’ve had and find the things that went well
because you want to do those more and find the things that didn’t go so well
so you can work on them or avoid them in the future
number seven is jumping to conclusions or mind-reading assuming you know what
somebody’s going to say assuming you know what somebody wants assuming you
know what their intent was can make you miserable especially if you assume that
their intent is not good as malevolent so you want to get the facts what
exactly was going on emotional reason a emotional reasoning is your eighth
cognitive distortion and we use that a lot people use that when they’re getting
ready to get on an airplane for example they’re afraid of getting on an airplane
so they assume that it’s dangerous you know they don’t they haven’t looked at
the facts to see you know how much safer or more dangerous it is than driving
which they do every day they haven’t looked at the facts to see you know how
common is it for an airplane to actually have problems but they feel fearful
because they’ve paid attention to the occasional plane crash that makes the
news well the twenty thirty thousand flights a day that don’t make the news
aren’t even registering in their mind so it’s important to recognize whether
you’re using emotional reasoning you feel scared therefore this must be
dangerous or you feel angry so therefore there must be a threat versus what are
the facts so step back and go I’m feeling scared I’m feeling
nervous that this is a dangerous situation what are the facts do your
research look online with the advent of the Internet you can do a whole lot more
research and educate yourself now more than before now be careful make sure you
use good websites and please if you’re worried about a health condition stay
off places like WebMD call your doctor because you will freak
yourself out unnecessarily most of the time but get the facts because most of
the time when we are scared about something it’s not as scary as we’re
making it out to be in our head number 9 is blaming you made me do it
well you know somebody does something and you get angry or you get sad or you
get however well that’s true they did something but what was your part in it
did you tell them that that bothered you did when they did it did you react to
that in a helpful way did you overreact to that sometimes especially if we’re in
relationships whether it’s a friendship or a close relationship we’ll just stuff
things people do things that annoy us and we kind of stuff it it’s like okay
whatever whatever and we get a bunch of whatever’s well all those whatever’s end
up lining up on a list of done meringues that eventually come out somebody the
person does something and it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back and
all of a sudden you’re hitting them with this litany have done me wrong so that
they’ve been doing for the past six months that you haven’t addressed you
did this you did this you did this you keep doing this well if you didn’t tell
them that bothered you and why or how to address it then they may not even know
so you can’t hold them accountable if they do the same thing like leave the
toilet seat up 12 times you can’t hold them responsible
for all of that because they may not realize that it bugs you or even realize
that they’re doing it so you need to look at what was your part in it yes
people other people do things that can trigger feelings in you
feelings are designed to get you to do something not to sit on it not to stew
in it but to do something to fight to flee or to reflect so when you feel a
feeling then it’s your choice what to do in the next moment you can improve the
next moment and decide what to do so that feeling goes away or you can stew
and stay stuck in it you know that’s your part you choose how you continue to
feel your immediate reaction that’s a biological thing that comes from
learning and all kinds of stuff you can’t control that so don’t try to
control that but say okay I feel this way how can I improve the next moment if
somebody is doing something that makes you unhappy or causes you problems you
need to make sure to address it ahead of time if for example you know we’re
coming up on the holiday season and maybe you’re anticipating that your
spouse is going to get the kids Christmas presents and then it comes to
Christmas Eve and there are no Christmas presents and you’re like you were
supposed to do that that was your responsibility did you communicate that
to them did you check up and make sure things
were going I mean the day before Christmas or the week before he probably
should have been going have you gotten the Christmas presents yet or you know I
don’t see anything coming in for something that’s important like that you
need to be aware and kind of on top of things not saying that we should have to
micromanage other people but if there’s something that’s really important to you
then you probably need to stay on top of it and number 10 is always being right
if you have difficulty you get angry when people don’t accept your point of
view when people don’t accept your rationale or your way of doing things it
can cause a lot of unnecessary misery and strife between you and other people
so you want to ask how can we both be right you know politics is one example
you know you may have one opinion and your best friend or your parent or
somebody else has another opinion all right is it possible that both of you
could be right from a certain point of view and you can agree to disagree it
doesn’t mean the other person is necessarily wrong it just means you
don’t hold the same opinions and rightness if you want to stick with that
term is very subjective when it comes to opinions and ways of doing things there
are you know my daughter is working on algebra now and she solves problems
differently than I do now does it mean that her way is wrong no she gets the
same answer so we’re both right we just go about it in a different way and far
be it for me to tell her she’s wrong because it’s working for her so you want
to be able to step back and go is there some validity to their point you know
examine it and even though you may disagree it’s their opinion or it’s
their way of doing things is it getting you to the same place okay so let’s go
with those examples we talked about in the beginning John saw that his wife had
frequently been calling his best friend and became enraged
so what other explanations might be going on so the first thing is he jumped
to conclusions he probably assumed that she was sneaking around behind him or
you know whatever the case may be well maybe she was sneaking around behind him
to plan a surprise birthday party for his 45th birthday oh well that’s a whole
different thing um he used emotional reasoning he felt angry therefore she
must be doing something wrong instead of going I feel angry so let’s see if it’s
me or if it’s somebody else is doing something wrong and he used
overgeneralization he assumed that because she was calling him and when
people call other people it must mean that they’re in some sort of a
relationship so there were several cognitive distortions there when in
reality she was just planning a surprise party
Sally had to give a presentation and was terrified a lot of people are terrified
about public speaking even if it’s just giving a presentation in front of their
team so the first one was jumping to conclusions
she assumed people were gonna be judging her she assumed that it was going to be
a disaster she foresaw all these things that were going to happen before they
even happened she used emotional reasoning she was
afraid that things were gonna go poorly so she said this is a really terrifying
thing to do she personalized it she may have thought that they’re gonna think I
am the most stupid person in the entire world when I get up and do this
presentation or they are going to you know really hate me it’s going to be
about me not necessarily about the material I used to sit in these long
meetings where we had to get up in front of all the other directors and present
our monthly report and it was a little intimidating the CEO the c-level
executives the CEO the CFO to see this to see that were in there as well as all
the directors so they were my peers and my superiors however you know they
didn’t dislike my presentation or just like me for example but the material I
was presenting was boring boring is sin and we had to hear the same basic thing
from 30 different departments so yeah it got redundant and people would start
getting antsy and irritable had nothing to do with me had to do with the fact
that we’d been sitting there for six and a half hours so personalisation you
don’t want to personalize so you want to check it and go is this about me or is
this about the situation and magnification she was assuming that this
was just going to blow up in her face and people would notice every single
mistake she made like she was under a magnifying glass in reality most people
there sitting in there and they won’t know if you make a mistake and even if
you do you know what everybody makes mistakes so they’re gonna they may feel
for you a little bit
so those were some of the cognitive distortions that she used so before
getting up to do that presentation she could have looked at the facts looked at
you know everybody has to do this I wonder what it’s like for everybody else
and looked around and seen that other people when other people would do doing
their presentations the audience was not engaged so when she did her presentation
if they weren’t engaged it wasn’t about her it was about them having other stuff
to do so get the facts look at it objectively like a fly on the wall take
yourself out of the situation and see whether it is as scary and as awful as
you’re expecting it to be and finally Heather broke up with her boyfriend and
was devastated okay well it happens when you break up with somebody when a
relationship ends whether it’s a boyfriend or a best friend it can be
devastating in this case she may have been using filtering disqualifying the
positive aspects of not being in that relationship anymore or only looking at
the good parts of the relationship and forgetting all the reasons that they
broke up which the negatives that were there she
used emotional reasoning she felt sad therefore this may be must be
devastating this must be the end of the world because I feel like I just got my
heart ripped out stepping back and going okay I feel really bad right now but is
my world really ending will I never find someone else chances are not happening
are slim likely you’re gonna find somebody else and you know repeat the
process all or nothing thinking she’s using that I will never ever find
anybody else if I can’t have this relationship I’m not going to find
anybody else or I’m a total failure in relationships that’s all or nothing
thinking the total failure well let’s look at what the other
person’s part was in the relationship let’s look at the relationship itself
what other factors contribute it contributed to
it failing and you know that takes us to personalization what part did you have
in it did the relationship breakup was it all your fault was it all about you
are you unlovable probably not the relationship probably broke up because
it was a bad fit because of stuff on the other person’s part because of stuff you
know maybe her significant other was going off to college or getting deployed
or something and they decided to end the relationship
so it may have had to do with a lot of factors that had nothing to do with her
so when you feel devastated again you want to check yourself for some of these
cognitive distortions and see if your impression see if the things that you’re
seizing on that you’re focusing on are valid and whether they include the big
picture too often we just filter out and focus on one little narrow aspect
instead of looking at all the other things that could have contributed a
good thing to do is write down each one of these cognitive distortions on a
piece of notebook paper you know one on each one distortion on each piece or
however you want to do it and review it throughout the day when you start
feeling kind of antsy or angry or whatever and see if you are using any of
these distortions see if you are telling yourself things using any of these
distortions because our self-talk is what often keeps us stuck in misery if
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