How to Tell When Your Mind is Playing Tricks on You


Did you ever have a thought that you absolutely believed to be true and it turned out that you blew it out of proportion, misinterpreted it, ignored the facts or simply got it wrong??

Probably, because this is super common!!  Sometimes, your mind might convince you of things that simply aren’t true. This is called cognitive distortion. If you have ever heard an underweight person claim they are "obese" or a person with a 4.0 GPA state that they have to "try harder," then you understand cognitive distortions. These statements are not based in reality but, rather, in ideas or thoughts or beliefs that are not facts. The mind is very powerful and, often times, it lies to you! Here are five common cognitive distortion “traps”:

  1. “Black and White” Thinking: It can be very easy for you to think of things in terms of “all or nothing”—this usually takes the form of “always” or “never” statements and thought patterns. Consider other options to the extremes and learning to “live in the gray” is the way to challenge black and white thinking. In reality, a multitude of options and/or answers exist and can be considered!
  2. Fortune-telling and Mind-Reading: You predict the “worst” will happen in a given situation, and/or claiming to “know without a doubt” how someone is thinking about you, with virtually no evidence to support this assumption. You might also predict the future based only on past experience, without any knowledge that the same outcome will occur.
  3. Overgeneralizing: This involves viewing one (or a few) negative events that have occurred recently as a helpless and never-ending pattern of defeat. Overgeneralizing is making blanket or sweeping statements that may not apply to every similar situation and also may lead to feelings of low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and little to no motivation!
  4. Discounting the positive/Magnification of the negative: This is when you place an irrational emphasis on a small number of negative experiences and events, while disregarding or “explaining away” the positives. Here’s an example: “I only got that promotion because all my other co-workers were offered it first and declined the offer. I am not actually good at my job.” 
  5. Emotional reasoning: This occurs when you tie your feelings to your perceived reality of the situation. For example, you may think “I feel anxious when I am on a plane, so therefore airplanes MUST be unsafe and SHOULD be avoided!” When you allow your emotions to overpower your logic and reasoning, it can distort your perception of any given situation.

It is easy to fall into any of these “traps” when you’re experiencing negative emotions. You don’t realize that you might be using negative thoughts to cope with how you feel. Becoming aware of cognitive distortions will help you better recognize when your mind is playing tricks on you!