The Bad House Guest: Cognitive Distortions (Episode 704)

Our perception of reality is dependent on our thoughts.

So if our thoughts are infected, then our lives will be too. That’s why on today’s episode of The Art of Charm we are discussing the 10 most common “cognitive distortions”; those irrational and often untrue thoughts that heavily influence our beliefs, decision-making and happiness.

Tune in to today’s episode to learn the defense you can implement to avoid your mind’s tricks.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • How do cognitive distortions wall you off from discomfort?
  • Why does black-and-white thinking leave no room for growth?
  • What is magnification and why does it blind us?
  • When should we realize we’re shining the spotlight too much on ourselves?
  • And much more…

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More About This Show

It is likely that moments of this show will cause discomfort, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. After recognizing that you have your own cognitive distortions working in the background, that’s the first step to removing them from your thinking patterns.

So instead of being disappointed, learn to laugh at the fact that you—like everyone else—sometimes takes a back seat to your mind. On today’s episode, we grab the steering wheel back from these cognitive distortions and resume control.

You Are Not Your Mind

The conversation around cognitive distortions quickly becomes a one of existential, philosophical, and psychological elements. As AJ puts it, “Our mind will play tricks on us when it’s trying to make sense of the world around us.”

This is the first step to evaluating which cognitive distortions you are governed by. Treating your mind as a separate entity, behaving with a different agenda than you normally would, will help you see things more clearly.

Johnny equates it to having a bad house guest, “If you wouldn’t let this person walk around trashing your house, why would you entertain this thought. It’s doing the same things—this poking at you, poking at other thoughts, causing you to self-doubt and second-guess.”

When we treat mindfulness as maintaining a clean house, our mind’s habits become exposed. Johnny describes the fundamental behavior as, “Our minds look for patterns in everything, and we place patterns where there aren’t patterns so that we can feel safe and comfortable.”

This pattern-seeking applies to any cognitive distortion we look at it. We justify our inaction by referencing the pattern. “Last time I asked a woman out, she said no—so I’m not going to again because that’s what happens.”

Our distortions can become so woven into our internal monologue that we start believing we are who we think we are. The way to combat this unreality is to feel what makes you uncomfortable and then jump into that pool of fear.

“If you want to understand where these cognitive distortions might be more pronounced, find something that gives you some sort of fear—public speaking, socialization, skydiving,” Johnny says, “Throw yourself in. Your internal dialogue will be so colorful of cognitive distortions, you will get a real sense of what you tell yourself in a time of distress.”

Leaning into our feelings and our fears exposes the different mental traps we fall into.

Negative Thinking Is Just A Way To Stay Comfortable

Here at The Art of Charm bootcamp, our participants often see great success when they confront their fears on a night out on the town. They’re able to bring energy to the room, start conversation with strangers, and befriend women in ways they never thought they could.

However, during our recap session the next morning, they’re unable to place this new piece of (positive) data into the framework of who they thought they were. The reason for this is simple: their current reality is comfortable and adding contrary data will puncture holes in it, inducing discomfort.

So to avoid this, they focus on the negative parts of the night and forget about the positive to stay comfortable. We all do this.

AJ asks, “There are negatives and there are positives. Why are we holding onto one more than the other?”

Johnny adds, “Having the idea that both of them weigh the same—with each negative, you are going to have to find a positive that brings these scales back in balance.”

When we put effort into keeping that positive/negative balance, our cognitive distortions dissolve. On our tendency to predict failure and setback before an event even occurs (fortune-telling), AJ says, “When you start focusing on negative outcomes in the future, you’re simply reinforcing that outcome.”

But what would happen if, for every negative outcome you forecasted, you provided an equal weight of positive possibility on the other side?

Positive outcomes would become reinforced.

We are prone to magnification, though. Catastrophizing the negative to the point that where, as AJ says, “It’s the only thing you can see.” The blinding effects of these cognitive distortions can tumble into other thinking patterns.

Black-and-White Thinking

In addition to negative thinking, we employ black-and-white thinking to justify our behavior. This works by removing the nuance from any situation. But that’s where life exists.

As AJ says, “What matters is seldom all good or seldom all bad. We live in the gray area. Start accepting that and stop trying to rationalize everything as black or white.”

Overgeneralization fuels that black-and-white fire. We take one failed networking event and claim that networking isn’t for us, or one mediocre date translates to: we’re off the market for a year.

Johnny says, “We take the one negative experience and then we generalize that everything in the future is going to be the same.”

These are more the traps our mind falls into. It’s not long until our mind has complete control over our body, and we are governed by its commitment to explanation and rationalization.

Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself; It’s Not Working

In our social media-filled lives, we see the Instagram posts of our friends on vacation and the LinkedIn updates with colleagues being promoted and immediately think, “Why isn’t that me? That should be me.”

This is a problem.

Johnny describes, “When you’ve placed all these ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ —you’re going to end up getting frustrated. And then who are you going to blame? Probably yourself.”

AJ adds, “When you try to motivate yourself with ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ as if you had to be whipped or punished before you did anything—well of course, you’re going to feel guilt or shame.” And that guilt or shame gets carried around, preventing forward progress by weighing you down. Where does that lead?

Maybe it’s time to stop “shoulding” on your yourself.

Excuse-making. Self-victimization. That tendency to see yourself as a victim of your circumstances AJ describes, “Instead of realizing you have a choice in any situation, you perceive yourself at the mercy of other people or your surroundings.”

When we go down these rabbit holes of cognitive distortion, we lose sight of the greater picture. Our ambition gets clouded with mental fog, but this is the first step to clearing the vision. Being mindful of our mind’s tricks —through meditation, journaling, even listening to this podcast— allows us to know when they’re getting played on us. But even tuning into our podcast needs to be deliberate.

AJ says, “I’m going to say something a little out-of-character for a podcaster. Pause the podcast. Stop overwhelming yourself with information and sit with your thoughts and emotions for a minute.”

This part of the process often gets overlooked in the self-development world. We’re told to absorb as much information as possible, but if we don’t take the time to place it inside our framework, then it will just be floating in our minds.

When we add this step of mindfulness to our game, we develop the strongest counterpunches to neutralize our mind’s trickery.

We hope you’re less uncomfortable after listening to today’s episode.  Let us know what you think of our list and if you have any to add on social media @theartofcharm.

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