Pay attention to what comes out of your mouth. The language you use affects how you experience your world, and how others experience you. Inevitably, things get "lost in translation."

If you're familiar with cognitive distortion or cognitive bias, these psychology terms teach us that there are subtle ways that our mind can convince us of something that isn't really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions, thus holding us back.

We all do this, both consciously and unconsciously, and how we do it provides pointers to our underlying beliefs about ourselves, our peers, partners and colleagues, and the immediate world around us.

As psychiatrist and researcher David Burns explains, this could spell trouble. Which of these do you do? Check the areas below and be courageous enough to ask a trusted peer for perspective. Is it a problem?

Top 10 Cognitive Distortions

1. All or nothing thinking: Seeing things as black-or-white, right-or-wrong, with nothing in between. Essentially, "if I'm not perfect then I'm a failure." Examples:

  • "I didn't finish writing that proposal so it was a complete waste of time."
  • "There's no point in playing in that golf tournament to raise money if I'm not 100 percent in shape."
  • "The vendor didn't show, they're completely unreliable!"

2. Over-generalization: Using words like "always" or "never" in relation to a single event or experience.

  • "I'll never get that promotion."
  • "She always does that...."

3. Minimizing or magnifying (also, catastrophizing): Seeing things as dramatically more or less important than they actually are--which can often create a "catastrophe" that follows. Examples of such inner dialogue:

  • "Because my boss publicly thanked her, she'll get that promotion, not me (even though I had a great performance review and just won a company award)."
  • "I forgot that email! That means my boss won't trust me again, I won't get that raise, and my wife will hate me."

4. Using words like "should," "need to," "must," and "ought to" as motivation: You may have a tendency to use such words to motivate yourself, then you feel guilty when you don't follow through (or get angry and resentful when someone else doesn't follow through). Examples of your inner dialogue:

  • "I should have gotten the contract delivered last weekend."
  • "They ought to have been more considerate of my feelings on this project, they should know that would upset me."

5. Labeling: Attaching a negative label to yourself or others following a single event.

  • "I didn't stand up to my co-worker, I'm such a wimp!"
  • "What an idiot, he couldn't even see that coming!"

6. Jumping to conclusions (mind-reading or fortune telling): Making negative predictions about the future without evidence or factual support. Example:

  • "I won't be able to pay my bills if I go on this vacation trip (even though there's plenty of money in savings)."
  • "No one will understand. I won't be invited back again to speak (even though they are supportive community partners)."

7. Discounting the positive: Not acknowledging the positive. Saying anyone could have done it or insisting that your positive actions, qualities, or achievements don't count. Like:

  • "That doesn't count, anyone could have done it."
  • "I've only cut back from smoking 40 cigarettes a day to 10. It doesn't count because I haven't fully given up yet."

8. Blame and personalization: Blaming yourself when you weren't entirely responsible or blaming other people and denying your role in the situation. Examples:

  • "If only I were younger, I would have gotten the job."
  • "If only I hadn't said that, they wouldn't have...."
  • "If only he hadn't yelled at me, I wouldn't have been angry and shot back."

9. Emotional reasoning: I feel, therefore I am. Assuming that a feeling is true-- without digging deeper to see if this is accurate. Like:

  • "I feel like such an idiot (it must be true)."
  • "I feel guilty (I must have done something wrong)."
  • "I feel really bad for yelling at my partner, I must be really selfish and inconsiderate."

10. Mental filter: Allowing (dwelling on) one negative detail or fact to spoil your enjoyment, happiness, hope, etc. Example:

  • You have a great evening and dinner at a restaurant with friends, but your chicken was undercooked and that spoiled the whole evening.

Clarification: This column has been updated to add attribution to psychiatrist David Burns.

Published on: Aug 18, 2016
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