Cognitive Distortions—What They Are and Why You Need to Know Them if You Want to Be Successful

Cognitive distortions and well-being clash.

Because cognitive distortions undermine our mental and emotional well-being. And when we think with cognitive distortions we limit ourselves. We get in the way of our personal growth, our development and limit our potential success.

Luckily, we have the power to overcome cognitive distortions! (that’s what I did, read more of my story here).

The first step is knowing what cognitive distortions are, where they came from and why they are important.

In this article you’ll learn the basics of cognitive distortions: what cognitive distortions are, where they come from and why they are an important area of focus for those who want to succeed in any goal.

What are Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are thought distortions, or unhealthy thoughts that misrepresent reality in a negative light. They can keep us stuck and from improving our mental health.

Think of “cognitive” as a fancy word for “thinking” or “though(s)”.

If cognitive distortions are in your thought patterns you focus on negative aspects of a situation leading to you think things that aren’t true.

So if you excel at a lot of things in life, but there is room for improvement in certain areas, you may deem yourself a total failure, focus on what you are not good at and discredit what you are good at.

Or if your significant other cheats on you, you might think that “everyone” cheats and love is not meant for you while ignoring the happy relationships in your life.

Where Cognitive Distortions Come From

Psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Beck noticed his patients with depression and anxiety had similar, dysfunctional thought patterns. He pinpointed the common patterns, categorized them and grouped them under the name “cognitive distortions.”

“Research suggests that people develop cognitive distortions as a way of coping with adverse life events.” (Ref) And while cognitive distortions are prevalent in those with anxiety and depression, even those without depression and anxiety may have cognitive distortions in their thought patterns.

We learn unproductive thought habits and cognitive distortions from our environment, such as media and culturally accepted biasses and people in our lives who influence our thinking.

Irrational and exaggerated thoughts can lead to stress, depression and anxiety, or compound depression and anxiety that’s already there.

Why we need to focus on Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions make life rigid. They encourage us to look for the negative and keep us from seeing the positive. The more we believe them, the more miserable and cynical we become.

When we see life through the cognitive distorted lens, we are living in a reality that isn’t real. We can allow situations to escalate and define life by one bad occurrence. Life loses meaning.

Left unchecked, cognitive distortions lead to unfavorable feelings like anxiety, depression and sadness, and can also bring feelings of loneliness, emptiness and hopelessness. All of this combined can bring on depressive states and create long-term anxiety.

Bringing it Together

The good news is that just being aware of cognitive distortions can help reduce their effect.

To learn more about common cognitive distortions and how to overcome them, click here.