The human brain is an awesome machine that created civilization as we know it. Our brains are also the source of love, happiness, and the many relationships we form.
And, yet, for many people, their brain is the cause of their perpetual unhappiness and leads to a social paralysis that keeps them from achieving joy and normal human relationships.
Our brains process information, but do so in ways that they have been trained over the years. This can be positive or negative reinforcement. As a result, some people have brains that are literally wired for dysfunctional and distorted thinking.
That distorted thinking is hard to change (and even to recognize) because it’s so embedded in their brain wiring. But, sometimes just knowing about those distortions can help people overcome them. Below are five common cognitive distortions that can ruin your happiness. Work on overcoming them and you will be a happier person.
As the name sounds, catastrophizing involves always assuming the worst possible outcome when processing situations.
“My boss will surely fire me for this.”
“If I approach that girl, she’ll humiliate me in front of the whole bar!”
Many people suffer from this common cognitive distortion and it makes them miserable.
Let your logic overcome your distorted thinking here. In the vast, vast majority of situations, what we imagine could happen never occurs. A study showed that 85% of what we worry about never comes to pass! However, the stress of worrying about it can cause a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
If you find yourself catastrophizing, logically walk yourself through all possible outcomes and see which ones are likely to happen. Also, examine the good possible outcomes. Don’t assume the worst and focus instead on realistic expectations.
Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” Emotional reasoning’s mantra would be “I feel, therefore it must be true.” In other words, if you have a feeling about a particular event, it has to be a genuine fact.
“I feel like the teacher wants me to fail so why bother studying?”
“I feel unsafe in planes, so I won’t fly.”
Emotional reasoning often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, a person feels like he’s unlucky. He then becomes super anxious, so he gets in a lot of accidents. Anyone who engages in a lot of emotional reasoning will ultimately be crippled by it.
The facts determined through rational thought should dictate our actions, not a purely emotional reaction. For example, look at the facts around plane travel or examine the reality of why you have failing grades. Your feelings play little into objective reality. Not only that, but your feelings could be wrong!
The mind reading distortion involves making assumptions about another person’s motive, usually assuming the worst.
“She didn’t smile at me, so she must be angry with me.”
“My boss didn’t invite me to that meeting, so I must be getting demoted.”
Mind reading is probably one of the most common of all these distortions. A good way to combat it is to actually talk to the person in question. From the previous examples, perhaps the woman was mad because her coffee was burnt that morning. And, maybe the boss felt he was doing you a favor by not taking up your time because he knows you’re valuable elsewhere.
When dealing with our emotions, humans can delete important information necessary to be happy. “I’ve never been happy in my life” is a deletion from a depressed person. If truly pressed, the person would be able to admit hundreds, if not thousands of happy events. But, this common cognitive distortion deletes them from the person’s thought process. They consistently dwell on the negative to the point that their brain filters out the positives.
One way to combat deletions is to rationally remind yourself (or someone else) of what they’ve deleted. For example, if a mopey friend says, “I’ve never won anything in my life” you could say, “Well, I remember a few years back when you won fifty dollars in the office football pool.” Or, if you’re getting down about your relationship prospects, make a list of all your relationship successes.
Generalization, as the above examples show, involves taking a specific event and applying it to all situations. This distortion leads to racism, sexism, and other types of biased thinking. It also keeps us from living life to the fullest.
We have to remember that one specific incident (or even several) doesn’t always make a pattern. Generalization makes us unhappy because it stops us from having honest judgments about people and situations. Hating an ethnic group or believing a particular gender is all bad (or any other example) can lead to paranoid thinking and hatred.
From a dating perspective, generalization about men and women can stop you from getting into relationships. For example, no man or woman wants to hear how bad their gender is or how you think they “always” behave due to their genitalia.
Knowledge is power. Now you know about these common cognitive distortions, avoid falling into their trap. They will decrease your level of happiness.