Is Your Life Really Miserable, or Is Your Mind Playing Games on You?7 min read

“It is an acknowledged fact that we perceive errors in the work of others more readily than in our own.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

 

Have your ever experienced a day when everything was going great – you woke up in time, you did your exercise, your boss appreciated your work and when you are happily coming back from home someone told you that your neighbours were bad-mouthing you. And, suddenly your whole day is destroyed.

Every great moment pales in comparison to this negative moment. Now, you are shouting at your wife and kids. Today there will be no enjoyment during dinner because you couldn’t understand why someone would say bad things about you.

This cognitive bias of picking out and dwelling on a singular negative event is called Mental Filter. You will find many more cognitive biases in the list below. But, let’s start with the definition of cognitive bias.

Wikipedia defines it as – Cognitive bias refers to the systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion.

To simply put it, Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that influence how we make decisions.

And now that you know what cognitive bias is, let’s identify your common thinking errors.

 

Here’s a List of common cognitive biases from the book An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications, Second Edition.

 

Extreme Thinking


Dichotomous Thinking Viewing things in ‘all or nothing’ terms without appreciating the spectrum of possibilities between the two extremes.
Things are ‘good or bad’, ‘successes or failures’. Typically, the negative category is more readily endorsed
Example: “Nothing is ever going to go right for me. I can trust no one. I am a total failure.”
Unrealistic expectations/high standards

 

Using exaggerated performance criteria for self and/or others.
Using ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’, and ‘musts’
Examples: “Unless it’s the best, it doesn’t count. I should get full marks. Mistakes are unacceptable. I must please everyone.”
Catastrophisation Predicting the very worst, sometimes from a benign starting point.
This may happen very rapidly so that it seems that the client has immediately leapt to the most awful conclusion.
Examples: “I made a mistake; my boss will be furious; my contract won’t be renewed; I will lose my job; I will lose my home; my wife will leave me; I will be poor and lonely.”

 

Selective Attention 


Over-generalisation

 

Seeing a single negative event as an indication that everything is negative.
Examples: “I have failed an interview – I’ll never get a job. This relationship is going badly – I’ll never find a partner. She let me down – I can trust no one.”
Mental Filter Picking out and dwelling on a single negative feature without reference to other, more benign events.
Focusing on the one thing that went badly in an otherwise successful day. Forgetting achievements and compliments but dwelling on a single criticism.
Example: “One of my exam marks is low – this is terrible – I’m really no good at anything.”
Disqualifying the positive

 

Rejecting, down-grading or dismissing as unimportant any positive event.
Examples:” He is only saying that to be nice. She is probably trying to get something out of me. This was a small achievement – others do better.”
Magnification and Minimisation

 

Exaggerating the importance of negative events and underestimating the importance of positive events.
Example: “What a mess up I made of that deal. Yes, I got the terms that my boss wanted but I didn’t handle it well.”

 

Relying on intuition


Jumping to conclusions Making interpretations in the absence of facts to support them.
Examples of jumping to conclusions divide into two categories:

(i)   Mind-reading: “I just know that they were all laughing at me behind their friendly faces.”

(ii)  Fortune-telling: “When I meet him, he will dislike me.”

Emotional reasoning Assuming that feelings reflect fact.
Examples: “I feel as though I can’t cope, so I’ll have a couple of drinks first. I feel awful when I get angry, so it must be bad to get angry. I feel unattractive so I must be.”

 

Self-reproach


Taking things personally Assuming responsibility if something (perceived as) bad happens.
Examples: “The dinner party did not go well: it was my fault for being tense and causing others to feel uncomfortable.” “Two students left my lecture early; I must have been boring.”
Self – blame or self – criticism

 

Seeing oneself as the cause of a bad event or criticising oneself without cause.
Examples: “I feel ill; I must have brought it on myself; I can’t catch up with my work; I must be stupid and lazy.”
Name – calling Attaching harsh and demeaning names to oneself.
Examples: “Idiot! I am so stupid. What a fool I am.”

The following is a list of the common cognitive biases from the book An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications, Second Edition.

Extreme Thinking

Dichotomous Thinking

Viewing things in ‘all or nothing’ terms without appreciating the spectrum of possibilities between the two extremes. Things are ‘good or bad’, ‘successes or failures’. Typically, the negative category is more readily endorsed. Example: Nothing is ever going to go right for me. I can trust no one. I am a total failure.

 

Unrealistic expectations/high standards

Using exaggerated performance criteria for self and/or others. Using ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’, and ‘musts’. Examples: Unless it’s the best, it doesn’t count. I should get full marks. Mistakes are unacceptable. I must please everyone.

 

Catastrophisation

Predicting the very worst, sometimes from a benign starting point. This may happen very rapidly so that it seems that the client has immediately leapt to the most awful conclusion. Examples: I made a mistake; my boss will be furious; my contract won’t be renewed; I will lose my job; I will lose my home; my wife will leave me; I will be poor and lonely.

 

Selective Attention

Over-generalisation

Seeing a single negative event as an indication that everything is negative. Examples: “I have failed an interview – I’ll never get a job. This relationship is going badly – I’ll never find a partner. She let me down – I can trust no one.”

 

Mental Filter

Picking out and dwelling on a single negative feature without reference to other, more benign events. Focusing on the one thing that went badly in an otherwise successful day. Forgetting achievements and compliments but dwelling on a single criticism. Example: “One of my exam marks is low – this is terrible – I’m really no good at anything.”

 

Disqualifying the positive

Rejecting, down-grading or dismissing as unimportant any positive event. Examples: “He is only saying that to be nice. She is probably trying to get something out of me. This was a small achievement – others do better.”

 

Magnification and Minimisation

Exaggerating the importance of negative events and underestimating the importance of positive events.
Example: “What a mess up I made of that deal. Yes, I got the terms that my boss wanted but I didn’t handle it well.”

 

Relying on intuition

Jumping to conclusions

Making interpretations in the absence of facts to support them. Examples of jumping to conclusions divide into two categories:

  1. Mind-reading: “I just know that they were all laughing at me behind their friendly faces.”
  2. Fortune-telling: “When I meet him, he will dislike me.”

 

Emotional reasoning

Assuming that feelings reflect fact. Examples: “I feel as though I can’t cope, so I’ll have a couple of drinks first. I feel awful when I get angry, so it must be bad to get angry. I feel unattractive so I must be.”

 

Self-reproach

Taking things personally

Assuming responsibility if something (perceived as) bad happens. Examples: “The dinner party did not go well: it was my fault for being tense and causing others to feel uncomfortable. Two students left my lecture early; I must have been boring.”

 

Self–blame or self–criticism

Seeing oneself as the cause of a bad event or criticising oneself without cause. Examples: “I feel ill; I must have brought it on myself; I can’t catch up with my work; I must be stupid and lazy.”

 

Name–calling

Attaching harsh and demeaning names to oneself. Examples: “Idiot! I am so stupid. What a fool I am.”

 

 

So the next time you are feeling low, sad, worried or stressed out, try to identify the reason behind your feelings; whether it’s because of your cognitive biases or is it something you genuinely need to worry about.

In the next article we will discuss about different ways in which we can manage these cognitive biases.

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