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11 Everyday Thinking Errors that Can (and DO) Sabotage the Plot of your Life.

Have you ever really paid attention to the thoughts inside your head? In other words, have you ever thought about your thoughts…your cognitions? If so, then perhaps you have questioned how you are thinking about things, and whether your thoughts are actually helping or hurting you. Have you ever questioned the accuracy of how you are seeing and interpreting your world?

In my article series, Thought Twist! 11 Everyday Thinking Errors that can Sabotage the Plot of your Life, we will explore several of the top 11 cognitive distortions or automatic thoughts that affect our personalities, our emotions and our behaviors. These everyday thinking errors include:

Thought Twist #1 — Mental filtering. The tendency to focus on one negative detail, allowing it to ruin your happiness, hope, or enjoyment.

Thought Twist #2 — Jumping to conclusions. The tendency to make irrational assumptions about people (mind-reading) and situations (fortune telling).

Thought Twist #3 — Personalization. The tendency to place the blame on yourself when you aren’t solely responsible, or placing the blame on other people and ignoring your role in the situation.

Thought Twist #4 — Black-and-white thinking. The tendency to see things as black-or-white, right-or-wrong, all-or-nothing, with no gray area.

Thought Twist #5 — Catastrophizing (Magnifying). The tendency to blow things out of proportion. Creating a catastrophe out of something that was not nearly as important as you perceived it to be. It is the equivalent of the old saying “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

Thought Twist #6 — Overgeneralizing. The tendency to make broad generalizations using words like always or never in relation to a single event, often based on minimal evidence.

Thought Twist #7 — Labeling. The tendency to make global negative statements about yourself or others based on a single event.

Thought Twist #8 — Shoulding and Musting. The tendency to use words like shouldneed toought to, and must to make unrealistic demands on yourself or other people — then feeling guilty when you don’t follow through, or angry and disappointed with others when they don’t follow through.

Thought Twist #9 — Emotional Reasoning. The tendency to interpret your experience based on how you feel in that moment. Assuming that a feeling is true — without digging deeper to see if this is accurate.

Thought Twist #10 — Minimizing. The tendency to see your own positive attributes and experiences as completely insignificant (while focusing more on your imperfections).

Thought Twist #11 — Disqualifying the Positive. The tendency to transform neutral or positive experiences into negative ones — not just ignoring the positive, but magically morphing them into their awful opposites. It’s like minimizing — on steriods!

For each of the cognitive distortions in the series, I define the thought twist, provide examples, explain how each mental trap can affect productivity in your life, and offer possible solutions for untwisting the thought. By the end of the series, my hope is that you will be armed with the tools to combat some of the most common and sabotaging everyday thinking errors.

Plot Twist

My family and I love watching movies! We are always using subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, pay-per-view and all the movie channels offered by our cable provider. And yes, we even watch DVDs. Whether you are a movie fan or just enjoy reading a good book, there is nothing better than a great plot twist! Filmmaker’s Dictionary authors Singleton and Conrad define it as,

Plot Twist: a literary technique, introducing a radical change in the direction or expected outcome of the plot in a work of fiction. — The Filmmakers Dictionary

Plot twists can be found woven all throughout classic literature, in popular novels, and on both the small and big screens. Remember when Bobby Ewing got shot on the 1980’s TV show Dallas? (I am totally telling my age here.) They aired a whole season with the story line of Bobby being shot. Then, PLOT TWIST — the finale revealed that the whole season was a dream courtesy of his wife Pam! WHAT?! I was so mad.

Or in the big screen hit Primal Fear, the main character (Edward Norton) was on trial for murder and his attorney (Richard Gere) used his split personality disorder as the defense, saying that his bad personality told his good personality to kill. Well guess what. He was found not guilty. PLOT TWIST! The split personality thing was all a hoax! The “good” personality never even existed and the “bad” personality was faking it the whole time!

In prime time shows like Empire, Scandal, and Grey’s Anatomy, the plot twists are never-ending.

And finally, my all-time favorite… Star Wars! Whether you are a fan or not, you have probably heard about Darth Vader’s famous plot twisting words to Luke Skywalker,

I am your father. — Darth Vader

Boom! Mind blown! A good plot twist must be well thought out by its author so in the end, everything becomes clear and we get to experience that great AH-HA moment.


Thought Twist!

Unfortunately, real life is not always as clear. The things we think and say on a daily basis, represent and impact how we experience our world. We attempt to capture thoughts, ideas and to describe what we see around us using words. But without fail, the real meaning is often “lost in translation”.

Much like the plot twist in a work of fiction, we often experience what I refer to as a Thought Twist. A Thought Twist is a dysfunctional thought that causes a change in the direction of a conversation or an experience within the story of our own lives. These thinking errors are known in the world of psychology as cognitive distortions and they are dysfunctional and can cloud our rational decision-making. They cause us to lose information through generalizations and deletion, and they lead us to give certain aspects of our ideas and experiences more focus than others.

This type of mental shortcut results in faulty information processing. It is automatic. It happens fast. It occurs both consciously and unconsciously. It occurs in all of us and it happens all throughout day. Most importantly, how we take these mental shortcuts can affect our underlying beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. They sabotage our lives!

For instance, you apply for a job but unfortunately you end up not getting the job because corporate has just issued a hiring freeze. THOUGHT TWIST! — “If I was only younger, I would have gotten the job.” That really had nothing to do with why you didn’t get the job but in your mind, you automatically think that you are the reason for not getting the job. You don’t even consider the fact that it may not have had anything to do with you personally.

Or your friends don’t show for your party because at the last minute, they receive word of a death in the family. THOUGHT TWIST! — “They didn’t show. They are completely unreliable!” Clearly, their no-show was a result of a personal emergency, not an indication of their reliability as friends. Again, nothing to do with you.

Why Do we Do This?

During a groundbreaking research study examining why dysfunctional thoughts develop, evolutionary psychologist Dr. Paul Gilbert explained that these automatic thinking systems in human beings originally evolved to aid in survival at the perception of threat. In other words, they functioned according to the “better safe than sorry” philosophy, allowing us to react quickly and automatically. For example, instead of sticking around to gather all the facts to determine IF a bear was going to attack, early humans had to react automatically at the first sight of the bear. Shoot or run. Those were the options. This cognitive distortion was called jumping to conclusions and in those cases, it was used as a mental shortcut to aid in survival.

However, cognitive distortions today, while quite common, are not as essential to our survival and can cause problems when used in the wrong situations. For the most part, unless you live in Atlanta and a circus tiger escapes and is found in your back yard about to eat your dog (no joke…that really happened down the street from me), you probably won’t come across a wild predator like a lion, tiger, or bear. When individuals today perceive a person to be a threat, jumping to conclusions can cause them to make irrational assumptions about the other individual. These faulty interpretations have evolved to poison our thinking and can be self-sabotaging. Ultimately, it can lead to damaged relationships, stereotyping, discrimination, and social conflict.

Is it possible that you are misinterpreting the world around you? Just maybe your perspective of the plot of your life is slightly flawed where it is actually preventing you from moving forward in your ideal way. In fact, self-doubt and negative self-talk can become so common and habitual that you become comfortable with it.

This Thought Twist Series, is based on the cognitive distortion theory which was originally developed in 1976 by world-renowned psychotherapist and University of Pennsylvania Professor of. Psychiatry, Dr. Aaron Beck. Then in 1980, this theory was expanded by Dr. David Burns, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine in his groundbreaking book Feeling good: The new mood therapy. For decades since, researchers in various fields of psychology and psychiatry have investigated cognitive distortions.

While the list of known thinking errors now easily tops 50, the distorted thoughts featured in this series actually appeared in Dr. Beck and Dr. Burns’ original work, and have been included in nearly every discussion of the topic since. This Thought Twist Series will outline each of their original thinking errors from an individual perspective, illustrate the impact of these automatic thoughts on your productivity in school and in business, and offers suggestions on un-twisting these automatic thoughts.

Reading this Series

At the beginning of post, I will share the definition of each cognitive distortion. Then in bullets, you will find examples of each Thought Twist to illustrate how easy it is for any of us to fall into these “stinking thinking” traps.

I encourage you to use the Thought Twist Series as a tool for recognizing your own thinking errors and cases in which others around you may be misinterpreting thoughts as well. Again, we all fall into these different traps, but there may be some distorted thoughts that you catch yourself entrenched in more often than others. Next, I encourage you to share this post with the people in your life so that they can recognize Thought Twist too! If you are worried about how they may take receiving a book about distorted thinking, take a look back at thinking error #2 — then read my post entitled Thought Twist #2 — Jumping to Conclusions. If someone sent you this article, and you feel offended or embarrassed about receiving a reading on distorted thinking — you should also take a look at Thought Twist #2.

My hope is that this series will be a practical guide for you to unravel these everyday “stinking thinking” traps, communicate with more clarity, separate fact from fiction when receiving messages, increase the productivity (of yourself and others), and enjoy a greater sense of peace and happiness as you write the story of your life.

Up Next . . .

Thought Twist #1 — Mental filteringThe tendency to focus on one negative detail, allowing it to ruin your happiness, hope, or enjoyment.

Example: You have a good day at work but your takeout order is wrong so "your whole day is ruined"


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