The 10 Ways of Untwisting Our Distorted Thinking

The 10 Ways of Untwisting Our Distorted Thinking

Some of our ways of thinking are so solid that that they are very hard to change, even if we experience evidence to contradict our belief systems.   In order to make changes to core-belief systems that are perhaps harmful to ourselves we sometimes need to put that belief to the test and really challenge it.   Below are 10 ways of untwisting our distorted thinking, make notes by each one to see how it applies to yourself.

PRO TIP:   CBT focuses on the HERE AND NOW, not by-gone events, think of things in the recent weeks that have caused you to experience some level of distress. Maybe something that has happened to you in the last 7 days which you have found upsetting, worrying or distressing.  If you can’t find an example expand it out to the last 28 days.
1. Identify The Distortion: Write down your negative thoughts so you can see which of the ten cognitive distortions you’re involved in. This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.      
2. Examine The Evidence: Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.        
3. The Double-Standard Method: Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.        
4. The Experimental Technique: Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought. For example, if during an episode of panic, you become terrified that you’re about to die of a heart attack, you could jog or run up and down several flights of stairs. This will prove that your heart is healthy and strong.    
5. Thinking In Shades Of Grey: Although this method may sound drab, the effects can be illuminating. Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, evaluate things on a scale of 0 to 100. When things don’t work out as well as you hoped, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete failure. See what you can learn from the situation.    
6. The Survey Method: Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if you feel that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.                
7. Define Terms: When you label yourself ‘inferior’ or ‘a fool’ or ‘a loser,’ ask, “What is the definition of ‘a fool’?” You will feel better when you realize that there is no such thing as ‘a fool’ or ‘a loser.’        
8. The Semantic Method: Simply substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. This method is helpful for ‘should statements.’ Instead of telling yourself, “I shouldn’t have made that mistake,” you can say, “It would be better if I hadn’t made that mistake.”        
9. Re-attribution: Instead of automatically assuming that you are “bad” and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it. Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.        
10. Cost-Benefit Analysis: List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like getting angry when your plane is late), a negative thought (like “No matter how hard I try, I always screw up”), or a behavior pattern (like overeating and lying around in bed when you’re depressed). You can also use the cost benefit analysis to modify a self-defeating belief such as, “I must always try to be perfect.”  

(David D. Burns, 1999. The Feeling Good Handbook. Revised Edition. Plume)

Find an example of your own personal cognitive distortions which you have been prone to in the past. Use a separate piece of paper if you feel is needed.

Create a list of troublesome thoughts
           
Examine the evidence for that thought
             
Can you examine any evidence against that thought?
         
How true is that thought out of 100?
   
Do others agree it is true?   Ask a person in the group
       
How are you defining yourself with those thoughts?  -e.g. Giving yourself a label? “I am stupid, I am a loser, I can’t win”
                      
Re-attribution:  Can you identify external factors that caused you think this way?
             
Cost benefit analysis
What is gained by thinking this way?                             What is lost by
thinking this way?    

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