7 Psychology Experts Reveal Their Own Cognitive Distortions

Examples of how to become mindful of your cognitive distortions and autocorrect.

Posted Apr 15, 2013

My most popular article here on Psychology Today is this giant list of 50 Common Cognitive Distortions.

You'll never completely eliminate cognitive distortions from your life. However, you can learn to "catch" them i.e., become mindful of them and autocorrect.

I asked seven of my colleagues to tell us about the last time they caught themselves having a cognitive distortion. They gave fantastic answers!

The belief that worry and overthinking will lead to problem solving insights.

"I recently noticed I was falling for the cognitive distortion of believing that worry and overthinking would lead to problem solving insights. I was worrying over how to respond to someone who regularly criticizes me in public. Suddenly I remembered I was unlikely to come up with the best solution in the middle of the anxiety, so I told myself I couldn't decide on a response until I no longer felt anxious. Interestingly with that decision, the anxiety almost immediately went away!" -  Heidi Reeder, Ph.D. 

Confusing Feelings with Facts. 

"Today I found myself guilty of the cognitive distortion, "Confusing feelings with facts."  Two flooring guys were installing a new floor in a bedroom of my house, a job that would take two days. Noise! Dust! Confusion! I found myself thinking, "Well, now that I know these men, tomorrow I could just leave the house and escape all this." Then I realized, "I'm familiar with these men now, but I don't really know any more about them--such as whether they are honest--than I did yesterday!"  Cognitive error nailed!"  - Meg Selig, Ph.D. 

The Consequences of Refusals. 

"Refusals have far less fallout than I used to believe. If I turned down an invitation to participate in an event or to attend a wedding, for instance, I worried that I would be "written off"  or thought of as uninvolved or uncaring. Actually, I realized that when I (or you) refuse to do something, the person asking is not thinking about me (or you) as much as I (or you) worry about what he or she thinks.  When you turn people down, they usually move on to find someone else to fill the space or do the job." - Susan Newman, Ph.D. See 13 Ways to Make Saying No Easier. 

Negative Filter: Focusing almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom noticing the positives. 

"After practicing yoga for 15 years, I recently branched out into and joined an athletic training class with a friend. It was very basic and "old school" with push ups, sit ups and running. While I was great at yoga, I was awful in this class. The first week I couldnt even do 5 situps or one proper push up! It was humbling. I found myself constantly criticizing and downing myself for being so weak. I was so focused on my areas of perceived failure, I never saw my small improvements...slightly faster running, more squats, better push ups...it took several weeks for me to change my self talk to be more reinforcing because my limitations seemed so overwhelming at first. Now I tell myself, "Do your best on each one!" Its totally different." - Geralyn Datz, Ph.D. 

The "Good Old Days" Syndrome. 

"Twelve years ago, my life changed dramatically when I became chronically ill and had to give up my career as a law professor. Even though I've learned to live a good life despite my limitations, I still occasionally catch myself in distorted thinking about the past. It runs along these lines: "Before I got sick, my life was perfect—a great family, my dream job..." But that life wasn't perfect. It had its joys and sorrows, its successes and disappointments—just as my life does now. Family life was stressful at times. Being a law professor wasn't always enjoyable—I've yet to meet a university teacher who doesn't dread reading Blue Books!  So, when I find myself putting that "old" life on a pedestal and thinking that I was always happy, I realize this is a cognitive distortion that serves only to make me feel bad about the life I'm leading now.  Another example. On Monday, April 8th, Brian Williams of NBC News began his report on the death of Annette Funicello by reminiscing about the 1950s, calling it "a sweeter era, one of genuine innocence." Now there's a cognitive distortion! Not only was that the era of "Red baiting," but in those "sweet and innocent" 1950s, in many states in the U.S., it would have been a crime for my two children to marry the people they fell in love with because those two people are of a different race from my children. So it's good to be on alert for "Good Old Days" thinking and remember that life has its ups and downs, its justices and injustices—in every era and decade." - Toni Bernhard, J.D.  

Photo that accompanies Dr Sam Boardman's example.

Negative Predictions.

"Last week my 7 year old son spilled eggs all over the floor while we were making breakfast. I thought, "what a bad omen for a Monday. Clearly this is going to be a horrible week." Luckily, I caught myself and took a step back. We ending up laughing about it together and took a picture of the mess — we decided it looked like art." - Sam Boardman, M.D.   

Distorted Assessment of Own Accomplishments.

"My colleagues see how much work and information I produce and consistently tell me, 'Wow, you’re so productive and focused!' On the contrary, I privately feel scattered and like I’m only operating at a fraction of my potential. It’s no small effort to accept their validation graciously since I don’t entirely believe it myself. However, their feedback always causes me to pause and reflect on what I’ve accomplished, which helps me challenge my story that I haven’t done enough." - Beth Buelow, ACC, CPC, www.TheIntrovertEntrepreneur.com.

If you liked this article, try...

- Cognitive Restructuring and

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques That Work 

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photo credits: Patrick Hoesly via photopin cc