What are Cognitive Distortions and What You Need to Know About Them!

Man with fake glasses nose moustacheCognitive Distortions are where we focus on particular aspects of an experience (often the 'negative' ones) and ignore or discount other aspects - thereby "distorting" our view of the world.

People are usually unaware of how they distort their experience with the words they use. Cognitive Distortions not only limit our choices, but can lead to unnecessary suffering - and sometimes even make a situation worse when we act on incorrect assumptions.

As a coach, Cognitive Distortions are a great opportunity to raise our client's awareness and challenge their limiting thought processes, allowing us to dig into the limiting beliefs people have about themselves, others and the world.

Why do we "distort" our experience? Well, it's often (but not always) unconscious. When we use words to attempt to convey the richness of our experience and thoughts, information gets "lost in translation". A limited range of words can only attempt to describe the infinite possibilities of our experience. There are also two other major ways we lose the richness of our experience - "Generalising" and "Deleting" information - which we will talk about separately.

Here is a brief list of the 10 Most Common Cognitive Distortions:

  1. All or Nothing Thinking - also known as black or white thinking.
  2. Overgeneralization - viewing a single negative experience as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. Minimising or Magnifying (also Catastrophizing) - Playing up or playing down one particular aspect of an experience to our own detriment.
  4. Using "Shoulds", "Musts", "Ought tos" - Criticizing ourselves or others and then feeling guilt (or anger/frustration)
  5. Labelling (or Mislabelling) - Turning a single experience into a sweeping judgement, "He's a jerk", "I'm a failure"
  6. Jumping to conclusions - Making assumptions with little evidence to back it up.
    1) Mind-Reading - making assumptions about what others are thinking
    2) Fortune Telling - making assumptions about what the future holds
  7. Discounting the positive - Anyone could have done it, or it doesn't count...
  8. Blame and Personalization - Overblaming ourselves, or blaming others and denying our role in a situation
  9. Emotional Reasoning - I feel something, so it must be true
  10. Mental Filter - Dwelling on one small thing and allowing that to spoil our experience

Check out our *FREE* Cognitive Distortions List Coaching Tool for a handy reference list of the 10 Most Common Cognitive Distortions - to use in session or give out to clients. This coaching tool comes complete with helpful descriptions and examples of how they are used!

TIP: Cognitive Distortions are not just 'negative' or limiting. Sometimes a cognitive distortion can lead to great creativity and new ideas...

This is just one of our many coaching tools! Learn more about what coaching tools are, when to use them and how they can help in our Complete Guide to Coaching Tools here >>

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools, resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

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