Negative Thinking: 10 Ways You Are Distorting Your Thoughts

Imagine what it would be like, from this day forward, to follow-through with every intention you ever have. You decide that you want to do something, and then you just do it. No stress, no guilt, no procrastination or self-sabotaging. Think it, do it. Life would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it?

Yet, somehow, this is not how we tend to operate. Generally, we face some sort of struggle in the chasm between our intentions and our actions, and usually it has to do with our own thoughts. We engage in negative thinking and start to doubt decisions we’ve made, question our abilities, over-estimate the judgement others will bestow on us, and before we know it, that “thing” that we were going to do – well, it’s not happening anymore.

Physical Health Starts in Your Mind

In terms of exercise and health, the biggest struggle almost always involves getting past the road blocks we set up in our own minds. The best way to do this is to become familiar with the ways that we tend to distort our thinking (more often negatively than positively) and then use this knowledge challenge the validity of our thoughts.

The first step in the process is to learn about the different forms that distorted thinking can take. For our purposes, we’ll focus on negative thought distortions since they are most common (positive thought distortions usually take the form of narcissism, but these types of distortions are less common). Here are ten ways that you might be twisting your thoughts.

10 Ways You Are Distorting Your Thoughts

1. All or Nothing Thinking

You look at things in absolute or black and white categories. There is no in-between or grey area, just “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad”, etc. This type of thinking leaves no room for mistakes because anything that is not 100% right, is 100% wrong. For example, one missed day of exercise is not a setback, but a failure.

2. Overgeneralizing

You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Words such as “always” or never” can indicate that you may be engaging in overgeneralization.

3. Mental Filter

You create a filter in your mind for specific situations, or types of information, and then focus on this and ignore other things that might contradict what you are looking for. For example, participating in a yoga class and noticing you are less flexible than others, not that your own flexibility is improving.

4. Discounting the Positives

Only focusing on the negative aspects of a situation, convincing yourself that the positives don’t count. For example, winning a race and not allowing yourself to take any credit since running “come naturally” to you.

5. Jumping to Conclusions

Mistaking the possibility of an outcome for its certainty. An example might be thinking that not making it to the gym today means that you will never be able to establish an exercise routine, and therefore you are destined to be overweight.

6. Magnification or Minimization

You blow things way our of proportion or shrink their importance inappropriately. For example, thinking that “everyone” is looking at you would likely be magnifying the situation.

7. Emotional Reasoning

Reasoning based on your emotions and treating how you feel as concrete, stand-alone evidence. For example, thinking that because you feel like a failure you are a failure.

8. “Should” Statements

You use very absolute statements like “should”, “must”, have to”, “can’t” to describe yourself and your situation. You use these thoughts to criticize yourself, or sometimes to criticize others.

9. Labeling

You identify yourself by your shortcomings. Instead of recognizing that you made a mistake, you allow your mistake to define you (i.e. “I’m a loser”, “I am fat” or “I’m an idiot”).

10. Personalization and Blame

Believing that general statements are directed at your when they are not, or believing that you are responsible for something that you could not possibly be responsible for. For example, assuming that someone who is not looking at you is intentionally avoiding eye contact because you did something to offend them.

Take Charge of Your Mind

Let me make one thing clear. Distorted thinking is normal! At some point, every person struggles with distorted thinking, it’s our nature to play devil’s advocate to ourselves, it’s a protection mechanism (we want to feel prepared for the worst case scenario).

The problem is when we worry out of proportion, and then do nothing to take action in response to our worries. Alternatively, t key to dealing with cognitive distortions is noticing them and then learning how to respond constructively (not destructively) to these thoughts.

A constructive response will focus on what you can do (not what you can’t) and then take some steps to put your plan into action. Just remember, while your mind is the most significant obstacle you will face in your journey to better health, it is also your greatest resource. Choose to use it to your advantage and you’re well on your way to happy and healthy living.