The human mind is a wonderful instrument, and perhaps nothing else comes close to matching its brilliance and unique capabilities.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not prone to making errors in judgement when it comes to interpreting the world around us.
Cognitive biases and distortions are ways of thinking about and perceiving the world in a way that doesn’t reflect reality.
In this blog post, I’d like to talk about three such distorted ways of thinking that may cause us to misinterpret reality and provide you with ways to overcome them.
Emotional reasoning, I must admit, is something I’ve fallen victim to, far too many times in my life and it has made me jump to all sorts of unpleasant conclusions.
This may happen so automatically and unconsciously that often we don’t even realise we are doing this.
To "emotionally reason" is to take your emotions as evidence for the truth. It involves operating under the notion that “if I feel that way, it must be true”, regardless of evidence to support it or even when evidence suggests otherwise.
If a person feels stupid and boring, then they conclude that they must be stupid and boring.
Dr. Leon F. Seltzer’s article from Psychology Today gives a couple examples of emotional reasoning,
Despite having in various ways, demonstrated that you’re as worthwhile as anyone else, you remain convinced that you’re somehow worthless—for you can’t overcome core feelings of worthlessness.
You feel stupid, so you’re convinced you must be dumb, regardless of the fact that your grades in school were as good as (or better than!) others and, as an adult, you’ve achieved at least as much as those around you.
The problem with emotional reasoning: Our emotions are often influenced and created by the thoughts and beliefs that we hold about something, therefore if they are distorted it can cause us to misinterpret reality.
Suppose you're feeling anxious about your future. If you 'emotionally reason", you may falsely believe that there is a valid reason for your anxiety because your feelings are an accurate indicator of how things will turn out.
Another side effect of emotional reasoning is procrastination. If you feel overwhelmed by something, you take that as an indicator that it may be too much for you to handle right now, and you put it off or avoid it altogether.
Black and White Thinking (Polarized Thinking)
Black and white thinking involves thinking in extremes with no middle ground. It is to see something as good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing.
Here are a few examples of black and white thinking
My life is never going to be as good as before.
I am always unlucky.
Today was the worst day.
I always make mistakes when I do __
If you notice the words given below keep coming up in your thoughts and speech, it could be a sign that you are viewing something from a black and white perspective.
The problem with black and white thinking : People, situations and events cannot always be neatly classified in merely two categories because sometimes reality is more reflective of somewhere between the two extremes.
By seeing things in absolute terms, we fail to acknowledge shades of grey, because not everything is right or wrong and good or bad.
Moreover, thinking in negative extremes can be bad for our mental health as it can make us became overly hard on ourselves, affect our relationships and also make us suffer from unhealthy perfectionism.
Rosy retrospection refers to the tendency to recollect past events as being more positive than they actually were.
In one study, three groups going on different vacations were asked to rate their vacations while experiencing them and again a few months later. Interestingly the participants gave significantly higher rating months after the vacation was over than while they were experiencing it.
For example, this cognitive bias could cause someone to remember their childhood or their time spent in college as being better and happier than they actually were.
Now in such cases, this cognitive bias can be completely harmless or even beneficial, yet even rosy retrospection can sometimes prove to be problematic.
Few reasons as to why it occurs: When looking back on our past experiences, we may overlook or forget about the negative and neutral parts of the past, and therefore it may appear more positive than it was.
Art Markman, a Psychology professor, explains the tendency for rosy retrospection,
“Lots of the specific things that are happening right now involve the petty annoyances that you have to deal with to navigate daily life. There are bills to be paid, stacks of laundry to be done, tests to be taken and errands to run. When you think about the past, those petty annoyances don't come up. So, all you think about are the great times you had.
In addition, when you look back on past events, you know how they turned out. Uncertainty is stressful. The present often feels less pleasant than the past, because we're still waiting to find out how the various parts of our life are going to work out.”
The problem with rosy retrospection: Rosy retrospection causes people to believe that the past was better than it actually was and can cause the present to appear bad in comparison.
It can make our minds long to return to an idealised version of a past that we created in our minds when we were happy and trouble-free.
This kind of thinking can also make it difficult to gain closure from past relationships by ignoring the bad memories or by making people backslide into abusive or dysfunctional relationships.
Most of these distorted ways of thinking tend to occur almost instantaneously and unconsciously.
The good news is that once you are aware of these distortions, it becomes much easier to spot them and realise that your mind may be perceiving things inaccurately.
What has personally helped me deal with these distorted ways of thinking has been practising meditation, making a conscious effort to become aware of my thoughts and speech, and questioning the automatic thoughts that pop into my mind.
To deal with these distorted ways of thinking that cloud our perception of reality, I’d highly recommend using these methods.
If you found this post useful, please share it with others— I'd really appreciate it.
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