“What not to Think”
The Distortion-Spotting Exercise
This is a simple cognitive therapy exercise. The following questions have been chosen to highlight common cognitive distortions or thinking errors and to help you critically evaluate your own thinking about a problem. First pick a problem situation or event to focus upon. Imagine that you are right there, as if it is happening now…
Your aim is to identify any potential errors of thinking, no matter how small, that might distort your perception of that situation. Evaluate whether your current viewpoint on the situation is 100% logical, accurate, and constructive, or whether you could perhaps see things differently. Be brief and concise, don’t linger too long over individual questions or get sidetracked. However, try to answer each question quite specifically. Don’t worry if sometimes you repeat answers – that’s normal. If some questions don’t seem relevant, just skip them and move on to the next ones.
So, concerning the situation you’ve chosen…
- What might you be falsely presupposing about things?
- What might you be mistaken in assuming about other people?
- What conclusions might you be jumping to about the future?
- What false assumptions might you be making about yourself in regard to this matter?
- What, if anything, might be distorted by your feelings about that situation?
- What might you be dismissing-out-of-hand or discounting unnecessarily?
- Might you be looking at things in all-or-nothing or black-and-white terms? How?
- What might you be making over-generalisations about?
- What, if anything, are you exaggerating?
- What, if anything, are you trivialising?
- What unreasonable demands, if any, might you be imposing upon yourself?
- Are you placing any irrational demands on other people?
- Are you imposing any unrealistic expectations on life?
- What, if anything, might you be mistaken about?
- What might you be ignoring?
- Who, if anyone, are you blaming excessively?
- What, if anything, might you be taking too personally?
- What might you be misinterpreting about things?
- Are you contradicting yourself in any way?
- Are you unfairly labelling anything about yourself, others, or events?
- What might be unhelpful about your attitude to things in the long-run?
- What other errors might be present in your current thinking about the situation?
Now answer the following questions to reflect on the process and plan ways of applying what you’ve learned:
- What have you learned by asking yourself these questions?
- How would you advise someone you care about to view the same situation and what might you recommend they do about it?
- What would be an alternative, more rational and helpful, way of thinking about that situation?
- What else, if anything, can be done right now at a practical level to begin changing things for the better?
It may be helpful to write down a detailed rational alternative perspective on the situation on a card that you can review every day until it becomes more familiar and habitual to view things that way. If you’ve identified any errors in your current thinking, your alternative perspective should aim to free itself from these distortions and present a more balanced and accurate version of events.