The original list featured in Dr. Burns The Feeling Good Handbook, which itself was derived from the book Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond by J. Beck and A. Beck, includes 10 negative thought patterns/cognitive errors.These cognitive errors were identified in efforts to increase awareness of common ways that negativity seeps into our minds, and in doing so, prevent it from affecting us. I shortened the list down to 5, as many of them overlap.
Catastrophizing is a dash of pessimism mixed with a sprinkle of self-doubt and a whole lot of anxiety. This common cognitive error causes us to exaggerate possible future problems. More often than not, the catastrophizing is done without any evidential basis indicating the presence or future presence of a problem. This negative thought pattern is rooted in fear and therefore is incredibly inhibitory.
2) Black or White Thinking
Balance ain’t easy. Our brains love to categorize things and neatly place them on a mental spectrum.
It’s easy to identify what lies on either extremes of the spectrum, but hard to discern what falls in the middle. As eager-to-learn elementary school students, we are taught to identify antonyms with proficiency- good opposes bad, dirty opposes clean, small opposes big. As often quick-to-judge adults, we subconsciously label people/things with similar speed. Dichotomous thinking is what judgment thrives off of. This thinking doesn’t allow room for sort ofs, maybes, ifs, perhaps, kind ofs, or places in between.
Applying this sort of thinking to ourselves can be self-antagonizing; only ever thinking of ourselves very positively or very negatively results in very turbulent emotions.
Also known as mental filtering, this cognitive error/thought pattern is exhibited when our mind perseverates on a certain negative occurrence. Magnifying on this negative incidence, we tend to neglect thinking about anything positive (minimization). Being cognizant of this negative thought pattern enables us to more clearly see everything that is going on around and within us on a level playing field.
4) Emotional Reasoning
Contrary to popular belief, human beings aren’t primarily rational. We are in fact swayed by fleeting emotions a majority of the time. Emotional reasoning is pretty much when we allow our emotions, however skewed they may be, affect what we think is true.
If we feel bad for failing, emotional reasoning tells us that this bad feeling implies that we are a failure.
5) Imposed Standards – “Should” Statements
We say these “should” statements in efforts to make ourselves better and impose certain expectations upon ourselves… but they usually just imbue us with a sense of guilt that can tarnish our self-perceptions. There is nothing that we SHOULD do, but there are infinitely many things that we COULD do. Rephrasing “shoulds” into “coulds” relieves you of guilt while motivating you to act based on your best judgment.
Did any of these negative thought patterns remind you of ways you have talked to yourself before? Now that you know they are common to pretty much every human, how can you remind yourself to ignore these cognitive errors?