Life can be difficult enough without our twisted thinking patterns making it worse.

Beware of these 10-common cognitive distortions which can be particulalry debilitating.

All or Nothing Thinking:

Thinking in black and white with no space for grey areas.

If you shot for ten scores in a sports match and missed one thus considering it a total failure would be a good example of this kind of thinking i.e. ten out of ten or it’s not good enough or even worse I’m not good enough.

Over generalisation:

Seeing a single negative event as a never ending pattern of negativity.

“Oh the traffic is always bad just when I have a really important meeting I need to get to”.

Mental Filter:

Picking out a single negative detail and then dwelling on it.

Say you get 95% great feedback on a work presentation but get one piece of mildly critical feedback and then obsess for days on it.

Discounting the Positive:

Telling yourself that the good things which you have achieved or brought about count for nothing.

“It still could have been better” or “anyone could have done it” are common put downs in this category.

These thoughts can sap the joy out of your life if you allow them.

Jumping to Conclusions:

Making assumptions without knowing the facts.

This comes in two forms.

Mind Reading – “oh my god I bet you Jim will be offended by that comment I made to him which was just a joke – he’ll probably never speak to me again”.

Fortune Telling – “if we get a last-minute free kick, I know that I will blow it”.


Exaggerating the importance of your negative qualities and down playing the importance of your positives. It can also come in the form of over hyping other’s achievements/positives.

“I can’t believe I did that, I don’t deserve anything good from now on…”

“She got that promotion, my god she’s set for life now. If she can do that, she can do anything!”

Emotional Reasoning:

Assuming that your negative emotions reflect how things really are.

Good examples here would be,

“I feel angry therefore I am being treated unfairly” or “I feel so guilty about that therefore I’m a rotten person”.

Should Statements:

“Sally shouldn’t be late, she’s always doing that.”

“I should be always calm and composed.”

The problem with should statements is that they can make us feel frustrated by telling us that people/the world shouldn’t be a certain way – the way it is! You’re fighting with reality.

The other is when it can be used to put us under crippling pressure like the second statement above.

On another note “I shouldn’t have the doughnut” can make us feel like we want to be rebellious and want to do just that even more…


Calling yourself or others names in a pejorative fashion.

“You’re such a loser”.

Problem here again is it’s black and white. You’re defining yourself as one thing, like in a fixed state of loserness (even though really there is no such thing).

Another example is saying, “Jimbo is a SOB”. As if he is rotten to the core and thus not zoning in on his behaviour or attitudes that lead to the undesirable behaviour, instead you attach the insult to the essence of the person – leading to anger.

Personalisation and blame:

“It’s his fault I didn’t make it. He was out to get me”.

“I’m such a bottler, I threw away my big chance by choking during the presentation. I’ll never get that opportunity gain”.

These statements lead to anger with yourself or resentment towards another. Furthermore, they are generally focused on the past and not a positive and assertive plan for improving in the future.

“My child is failing at school, this shows what a bad parent I am”. This negative self-talk doesn’t help you get to the root cause of the issue.


Just knowing these distortions will already help you to improve.

Start looking at tough situations with a more positive eye and an opportunity for potential growth.

What would I like to change and how could I go about it?


For more in-depth knowledge on this definitely check out the book where I accessed them:

Burns D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook

Declan “Mind over Matter” Treanor

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