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Cognitions are our thinking, perceptions, and beliefs. Cognitions play an instrumental role on emotion, behavior, self-esteem, self-efficacy, body image, body weight, and relationships. Many people don’t realize that our emotions are the result of our thoughts. For instance, experiencing an unpleasant emotion, such as sadness or anger, can take place because we are thinking about a person we lost, which is a normal reaction, or because we are having negative thoughts that are not healthy for us. The latter are called cognitive distortions also referred to as unhelpful/unhealthy thoughts or distorted thinking.

Distorted thinking, just like healthy thinking, is based on our beliefs, experiences, and views of the world, others, and ourselves. Cognitive distortions are unhelpful thinking patterns that convince our minds of something that isn’t really true. They show up automatically as a knee-jerk reaction as they have formed over the years and are our habitual way of thinking. These inaccurate thoughts are not rational but have a negative impact on our emotions and choices, day-in, and day-out. Cognitive distortions reinforce negative thinking and keep us in a gloomy space. Everyone experiences unhelpful thoughts to some degree. However, having cognitive distortions running through your head consistently can lead to emotional distress, chaotic relationships, and self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage is when we behave in a way that is damaging to our well-being, creating problems in daily life and interfering with long-standing goals. Many times, people aren’t aware of their self-sabotage and the self-defeating consequences, and other times, they are in denial about it. But being aware of self-sabotage doesn’t guarantee that they’ll disengage from it. The most common forms of self-sabotage include procrastination, alcohol or drug abuse, binge eating, initiating fights in relationships, and missing important appointments. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome all forms of self-sabotage by addressing and changing cognitive distortions, poor coping skills, emotional issues, unhealthy habits, and by reconnecting to one’s life purpose.

Below are some of the most common cognitive distortions. Read through them so you can identify the ones you experience. By learning to identify this “stinking thinking,” you can challenge those thoughts, and change your subsequent emotions and reactions. This will also help you to start making changes in order to avoid self-sabotage.

  • Polarized Thinking (Black-or-White Thinking): Seeing things only in extremes and placing people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray. There is only perfection or failure, there is no middle ground. Let’s say you didn’t stick to your diet during lunch; then, you think, I’m gonna eat McDonald’s later since I already messed up my meal plan today.
  • Catastrophizing: After encountering a situation you dislike, you make the situation bigger than what it is and act as if it’s the end of the world. Let’s say you didn’t get that promotion you wanted; then, you think, I’m gonna start trying so hard because I’m not gonna get that promotion anyway; I’ll probably get fired.
  • Filtering: Only paying attention to a certain input. For instance, your boss gives you a performance review mentioning your strengths and shortcomings. After the meeting, you think, my boss doesn’t like me, he kept talking about my shortcomings.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Concluding that feeling a certain way makes something true automatically and unconditionally. Emotional reasoning is when a person’s emotions take over their thinking entirely, excluding rationality and logic. Remember, feelings are not facts.
  • Disqualifying Positives: Discounting good things that happen and zeroing on anything bad. This keeps you in a negative space and facilitates a victim mentality.
  • Over-Generalizing: Drawing broad conclusions based on a single event. For instance, an unpleasant situation takes place and you think, bad things always happen to me, everybody is always picking on me.
  • Labeling: Generalizing one or two qualities into a negative global judgment about themselves, others, or situations. Assigning labels such as I’m a failure or people are evil.

  • Personalization: Believing that everything others do or say is a direct reaction to you, taking everything personally. Or assuming more responsibility than what’s appropriate regarding a specific situation. The opposite is also part of personalization, refusing to take responsibility for your role in a situation and blaming others.
  • Regular Use of Critical Words: Habitually using words like should, must, ought. This creates frustration, rigid rules, and unrealistic expectations when dealing with others and yourself.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Concluding that whatever you believe is true just because you think so, without having all the facts.
  • Mind-Reading: Believing that you know how others feel, think, and why they do what they do without specific evidence. 
  • Fortune-Telling: Talking about the future as if you can predict it, or as if you know what will transpire.
  • Control Fallacies: This distortion involves issues of control. You may feel externally controlled as if you have no control over your life and are a helpless victim of fate, I can’t help my weight; it’s genetic. The other fallacy is internal control, believing that you have control over everything happening in your life and the lives of others.
  • Fallacy of Fairness: In the fallacy of fairness, you go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation, judging its fairness. This leaves you feeling resentful, angry, and even hopeless because you think that life is not fair.
  • Blaming: Holding other people responsible for your emotional pain. Or you may take the opposite track and instead blame yourself for every problem — even those clearly outside of your control.

Healthy thinking is a prerequisite to positive emotional responses, healthy behaviors, satisfying relationships, and fulfilling life. Identify your distorted thoughts so you can challenge and change them, avoid negative emotions and behaviors, and stop self-sabotage. Check out 28 Days to a New Life to incorporate a holistic approach and make changes in all areas of your life.

To a Fitter Healthier You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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