Self-defeating thoughts can be short lived or part of a condition we actively work to manage (often anxiety and depression). Either way, they don’t feel good, we all have them, and it’s important to catch ourselves when we start to notice them. We can do this by working as our own fact checker.
We do this with major debates, the news, and when someone else tells us something we’re not sure is true. The crazy thing about this is that we generally DON’T do this when it comes to our own thoughts or internal monologue. We assume these thoughts and ideas are 100% accurate, even when some of them are not.
As much as we would like to believe our own thoughts are always the truth, the fact is that sometimes they are FAKE NEWS. These specific negative and untrue thoughts are called “cognitive distortions”. Specifically, these are thoughts that reinforce negative thinking patterns that generally have little to no basis in reality. Essentially they are the words of our inner critic, not the voice of truth.
According to PsychCentral some of the most common distortions are called filtering, polarized thinking, and overgeneralizing. The best way to arm yourself against these distortions? Recognize when they are happening and GET INSIDE YOUR OWN HEAD. Don’t be scared to tell yourself your thoughts are wrong, especially when they are self-defeating. You can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Don’t you want to have your own back?
Let’s take a closer look at these top 3 cognitive distortions, and how we can better arm ourselves to deconstruct them:
Filtering: This is when we selectively filter out all positive instances and only focus on the negative. You know those meetings where your boss tells you 10 things you’re great at and one area for growth, but all you think about is the one negative? This is filtering. Instead of focusing on the area for growth, write down the 10 things that you were complimented on, and focus on these! We are much better off building on our strengths than we are focusing on the one thing we’re not great at. It’s ok to be mindful of your growth areas, but it’s not so great when we let them consume us. When we focus on our strengths, growth areas often improve as a result. Note how I called these “growth areas” and not “weaknesses”. Words matter – use ones that build you up, not tear you down!
Polarized thinking: Black and white. Right and Wrong. If you’re not first, you’re last. I either do everything at the gym or nothing at all. This is polarized thinking. The best way to combat it? Focus on progress NOT perfection. Success is in the details, and keeping a gratitude journal or list of victories over the course of the week makes a big difference. Consistency is essential to achieving any goal, not being perfect. The more we practice consistency and progress in anything we do, whether it be work, health goals, or relationships, the better off we’ll be at it. I don’t know how many times we have to tell ourselves this, but EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS! Anything else is polarized thinking. It’ okay to live in the “gray area”.
Overgeneralization: Taking one instance of something happening, and applying the result to all other areas is overgeneralizing. I actually did this with CrossFit. I went to one specific gym, had a terrible experience, and swore it off for good. Not just this specific center, but all of CrossFit, for the rest of my life. To be honest, I still haven’t gone back and this is something that I need to give another shot. I can’t take one bad coach or exercise class and apply it to every coach and gym out there. Scientists don’t take one finding in a small sample and then announce it to the world as the absolute truth, and neither should we. IT’S BAD SCIENCE!
Moral of the story: Investigate your thoughts and refute them. If you catch yourself having self doubt in any area, be sure to examine why and look for the positives. The more we focus on this, the more we hardwire the pathways to positive thinking and make it part of our natural thinking process. That’s the cool thing about our brains, the more we focus on something the more hardwired it becomes. So if we think positive, we’re going to be positive, and the same vice versa. Be a mad scientist – destroy the fake news in your brain! Don’t be afraid to question your own thinking. After all – we know ourselves best, and if we don’t call ourselves on our own BS, who will?