Brain Science – Episode #24

Cognitive distortions

awareness for change

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How reflective are you with the thoughts you think? In this episode, Mireille and Adam talk through a few more cognitive distortions. These “distortions” are general tendencies or patterns of thinking that are false or inaccurate, which also have the potential to cause psychological damage. Generally speaking, people develop cognitive distortions as a way of coping with adverse life events. The more prolonged and severe those adverse events are, the more likely it is that one or more cognitive distortions will form. By recognizing these patterns in our thoughts and possibly how, when, or why we’re prone to use them, like many things, we create the opportunity to change them.


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So as normal with any thinking and decision-making, it occurred to me that there are some various ways that we all think that can be distorted. Cognitive distortions are common to talk about in psychology, but not so much in everyday life… And I imagine that of the ones we talk about today, there are several or all that we have done or do often, so I thought “Hey, let’s pull together a list of the most common, and talk about a few of those from that list.”

Yeah. It’s interesting, because cognitive distortions are something – you don’t necessarily have to have a mental health diagnosis in order to struggle with these, because we all do them at various times, in various ways… And they’re usually sort of born from a time in which we utilized them when they were more functional or adaptive for our survival or getting through the day-to-day.

That’s why they’re common.

We’ll get into these deeper, I’m sure… But it sounds like they begin innocently. As maybe even a defense mechanism or a reactionary situation where you’ve got to deal with a certain thing, so you act a certain way or think a certain way, but over time it gets more and more distorted. That’s why they’re called distortions.

Yeah, so research suggests that people develop cognitive distortions as a way of coping with adverse life events. So the more prolonged and severe those adverse events are, the more likely it is that one or more of these cognitive distortions will form.

We’ve talked about these in earlier episodes, with sort of “shoulding” on yourself; listen carefully to that… [laughs] And things like catastrophizing, imagining the worst-case scenario in all the things… So we’re gonna talk about a few different ones today, but basically, cognitive distortions are these tendencies or patterns in the way in which we think or believe; these are usually false or inaccurate. I would also say sort of lacking; they’re not comprehensive. They don’t take in all details relevant to the situation, event or interaction… And these all have the potential to cause psychological damage, right?

If done long-term.

Yup. Yup, yup, yup. So with that in mind, if we’re looking at this being a multi-factor way in which these emerge, I can’t help but bring up or think about aces. Have you ever heard of aces?

Aces of spades maybe…

[04:15] [laughs] Right? No, ACEs as an acronym.

So ACEs are what we called Adverse Life Experiences. These are things that have happened to us within our first 18 years of life. They tend to be talked about or referenced a lot in elementary school, early school education, so that teachers really can help kiddos who are struggling.

So if you’ve had something happen to you, an educator might be aware of these different ACEs and understand how to help the child or work with the child etc.

Yeah, so these actually came out of a research study done by the CDC-Kaiser Permanente in California between 1995 and 1997. It was one of the largest investigations relative to childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges, and the implications in later life relative to health and well-being. So these would include things like physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness and household violence.

Yeah. And if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking “I’m gonna tune out because they’re talking about childhood stuff” - well, children become adults, eventually. You were once a child, and something happened to you and the way you are because of who you were and how you were brought up… So these things are really relevant, because eventually – of course, we also love children, and we don’t want them to be abused or neglected, but the point is don’t tune out because we’re talking about childhood stuff and you may not have a child in your house, or something like that… It’s because you were once a child too, and mapping back to our past makes sense for our future.

Exactly. Why do we study history? So that we can learn from it and we can do better. Look, we don’t pick a lot of the things that we experience as a child, but it doesn’t mean that then we didn’t figure out ways to navigate that. So awareness is the first step to change. If I don’t know I’m chewing my food while I’m talking to someone, and nobody tells me that, I’m gonna continue to probably chew my food and let everybody see it.

And honestly, for one, to be very specific on that one, it’s a general social thing, it’s being rude… But you can also choke. It’s a choking hazard too, if you’re talking and chewing; you can inhale food. [laughs] I mean, it’s got multiple facets of why it’s not right.

Right. Well, at least is the feedback that I’ve heard over and over again in my office, is that if things weren’t bad enough, like “Well, that was just sort of what I went through. No big deal” - well, it doesn’t mean it didn’t have an impact.

So when we’re talking about these adverse childhood experiences, we’re talking abuse as being emotional, physical or sexual abuse, which I think are easier to identify, generally speaking. You can make generalizations relative to what that would look like…

And then household challenges… So you might be like “Mireille, what’s that?” Well, violence in the home. Child abuse, and really even abuse, isn’t always that it was necessarily directly inflicted upon you, but witnessing something violent or wherein there was a threat in some regard to your physical safety or psychological safety, that can be included in that.

[07:52] Substance abuse… If somebody else in the home was abusing substances… And then I don’t know how much people think about this, but growing up, if you’re a child and one of your primary caregivers has a mental health illness, like depression, wherein they really struggle to do the sort of fundamental activities of daily living - that would have an influence or an impact on someone else… And part of that really has to do with not having the buffer. If somebody is not doing well themselves and trying to manage their own mental illness, they just have less, fundamentally, to give and to assist with helping another little person with their own mind. And like we’ve talked about, one of the most significant things in development is relationship, right?

Yeah. Well, it’s like a recipe missing an ingredient.

Right? I mean, if you’re gonna make something sweet, minus anything sweet in terms of an ingredient, it’s not gonna be very… Sweet.

Yeah. Also included is parental separation or divorce, and then even if there’s a household member who’s incarcerated. So all of those would be household challenges relative to having one of the adverse childhood experiences.

Lastly, neglect - emotional neglect, wherein people just weren’t really there for you emotionally. Maybe your physical needs were met… Or - that would be the other one, physical neglect; there wasn’t anyone there to really run interference to assist you. You might not have had enough to eat, or parents were under the influence of a substance, and as a by-product then some of your physical and emotional needs went unmet.

So we’re saying that these distortions, these common distortions come about because we’re trying to cope with adverse life events… Generally, in this case we’re talking about it as ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and so mapping back to the childhood areas we’re seeing when maybe it might even make sense for someone who might align with or identify with some of these distortions we’ll talk about today… To map back like “Hey, what event happened in my life that caused me to begin to cope in this way?” So we’re mapping back because these distortions occurred because there was some sort of adverse life event at some point.

Right. I like how some people have talked about it relative to micro and macro factors… Si micro factors being like biology, brain chemistry, and macro sort of like social interactions and culture… And in the same way, thoughts and beliefs. So it’s not a far reach to understand that as a kid, if I didn’t have somebody talking back to me, that helping with developing my own way of refereeing myself, so to speak, I’m just going to fill in the blank and fall back to default. Nobody’s helping me buffer in any way, so whatever my brain comes up with is what I do.

Is that similar to kids not having guard rails in terms of discipline or things like that, where you’ll see – for example, an organization like YoungLife might reach out to kids who have not so much non-caring parents, but they’re just different, I suppose, and they have less rigidity, less curfew, less strictness in their life… And these are teens, 14 through 17, somewhere in that age range - just using this as an example - where they have no guard rails, and so they’re a lot different than their peers because they don’t have anybody putting a shape around them.

[11:47] Yeah. One of the other things is just relative to habits. If I’ve practiced a way of relating to myself, or this is what I learned, this is the way to grandma’s house we go, as a child we don’t tend to be as self-reflective, generally speaking…

No. Not at all. We’re in the moment.

This current minute and the next ten minutes is usually–

Right. So what happens is you develop a way of thinking, and you went that way, and then you repeat that, and then you keep repeating that. I mean, I can’t even tell you the number of people throughout my career who have been in my office and are like “I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know what things along the way…”, and part of it is somebody else pointing out to us “Hey, did you know you do this?” “Adam, you twiddle your thumbs when you get nervous or don’t know what to say…”

I do that, yes.

I’m just kidding. I’m twiddling my thumbs now. [laughter]

But you know, without somebody sort of being a mirror and a referee, we might not be aware of the thoughts that we think, and that’s why we’re having a conversation like this, to recognize “Hey, do I do this?” I mean, I can’t even tell you how many times while I was in graduate school and learning certain things, and in therapy myself, that I was like “Oh my gosh, I did it. Oh, I did that again.” Because it’s like I’m putting a different lens on the way in which I think, to be able to see what I’m doing that’s working well for me, and what I’m thinking that isn’t working well for me.

Right. So from a layman’s perspective, my thought is like “Well, the first line of changing decision-making, changing our thinking for our audience is awareness. So hey, let’s do a show about these distortions, and at least bring up a few, and link out to maybe a longer list, more distinguished list of common distortions… And not so much self-prescribe an ailment to yourself, but at least be aware these things happen. Because a few for me – I was like “Wow, I hadn’t realized how often I do this way of thinking.” And these distortions are like mini-frameworks of thinking, I think. They can get more and more distorted, of course… And awareness that they exist is step one, for me at least. That’s my thought of it, from my perspective.

Well, one of the first recipes I recommend for people when they’re trying to change - and I think this is across a lot of different fields - be it “I wanna change how I manage my finances, I wanna change how I eat, I wanna change how I think - track it, to recognize like “Oh, I realize that I did this again” or in this situation, this relationship, these are the thoughts I tend to think. And then I have an opportunity to change them.

There’s a well-known saying, and I think it may be generally in business, or startups, or just building a product and running a company… It’s “You can’t change what you don’t measure”, right?

So if you measure it, you’re at least paying attention to it, you’re aware of the ups and the downs, you’re aware of the norms, you’re aware of the norm line in comparison to the extreme lines up and down… And you can begin over time to map what is a rational way to see this data point, whatever it might be. And to your point - yeah, if you want to change, track it, measure it, examine it. Be the scientist we suggest you be, of your own life, of your own thoughts, of your own thinking… And track it.

Right. One really important thing that I wanna point out is as part of the framework throughout this conversation today was something that a psychological anthropologist by the name of Natalie Smolenski said. She noted “Cognitive distortions are caused by underlying emotional issues that have not been dealt with. Remember, emotion and cognition are not separate processes, but always co-occur. When you think about what came first, the chicken or the egg, the emotion or the thought - yes…”

Yes… Yes. [laughter]

[16:00] It could be the thought that triggered a feeling, and this is why, again, there’s so much hope for change, and thinking and feeling differently, because I can recognize “Oh, here’s a pattern. When situation A occurs, I respond with B.” Or “Wow, I tend to feel like B, and then I think A.”

So as we describe a few of these, or link to the list, if you identify them, thinking this way - well, what was the emotion or the cognition that sort of was a cause and effect of this distortion… Is that what you’re saying?

Mm-hm, yeah. Exactly.

So kind of like trace back, map back to where it may have begun.

Yeah. Like, was there a situation that transpired? I think a lot about [unintelligible 00:16:46.15] because a lot of people tend to work… Was there an interaction with your boss or a co-worker that happened, that sort of created an emotion, and you were like “This stinks”? “Now I’m having trouble doing my job, because I’m distracted by that previous exchange and how I feel about it, and I’m trying to now bounce back so I can do my job… Goodness gracious, what’s wrong?! I can’t bounce back.” And now I’m spending time trying to have a conversation with myself instead of doing work, because I got hung up on that interaction.

So one of the ones I wanna talk about today is emotional reasoning, and I think it’s pretty self-descriptive… Any observed evidence is disregarded or dismissed in favor of the assumed truth of your feelings. I think because language matters, we can figure out nuances in how we say things… Like “I feel sad”, “I am sad”, “I don’t want to be sad” or “I’m always sad…” All of those nuances in words make a difference, and if you can imagine that how we think is sort of like the soil for what we’re trying to grow in our lives, I would probably want to be very particular about the environment that my mind is growing in.

Yeah. Can you give an example of dismissing or disregarding observed evidence because of an assumed truth or feelings?

Sure. An example might be “I feel guilty because I didn’t do what I thought you wanted relative to work. You told me that you wanted me to get this project back to you by Tuesday, and I didn’t.” So I’m really struggling with feeling guilty, but I had already told you on Tuesday “Hey, I might not get it done” and you said “Wednesday is fine”, and I did submit it on Wednesday. So I’m still feeling guilty, even though you gave me other information that contradicted how I’m feeling.

So I’m now continuing to be stuck in that cycle of guilt, as opposed to “No, I’ve got other feedback from someone else, that said “No, you’re okay.”

Yeah. So that’s a pretty common occurrence, I would say. Is there an extreme version of this one in particular? Or maybe project how it might get more extreme.

Well, I think when the guilt turns into shame, of like “I suck. I messed up. I made a mistake, so now I can’t seem to do a job.”

Right. So if this keeps occurring, eventually it will turn from guilt to shame, and the internal dialogue of being not enough.

So - sure, we have a list of more to go through, but what are some good ways to counteract this one in particular?

Well, let me go back and give you some other examples, so people have a little broader framework, too. What about “I feel overwhelmed and hopeless, therefore my problems must be impossible.” So I’m using an emotion to make an inference. “I feel inadequate, therefore I must be worthless.” So in some ways it’s an emotion, and I’m making a generalization that isn’t wholly accurate.

[20:23] You’re magnifying it even. So this one small area I’m not good at, so therefore my whole entire life is a disaster; my whole entire – who I am is terrible at the core.

Right. Or I could say “Gosh, I just feel so fat”, even though my doctor says “You’re fine. Your weight is within the normal range.” No matter the evidence, you’re convinced you must be dumb or stupid, even though work reports, grades, you’ve got a degree or a few degrees… This would be like I’m using my emotions as the foundation for which I stand on.

Rather than factual evidence. That’s why I feel like if you have a couple of these happening, I would imagine that an authority figure with authoritative data might be a step towards overcoming your emotional reasoning.

Yeah. One of the mantras I always say is “Feelings aren’t facts. They’re just feedback.”

You’re right. So there’s something going on here; it may not be as bad as I’m feeling like they are. It’s the fact that I am having those feelings, but it’s just a feedback process to discover “There’s something going on here. I need to investigate further”, and there you go.

Right. A lot of people struggle with anxiety. Anxiety is a natural, normal feeling, but it’s your job to figure out what that experience of anxiety is telling you… Because not everything is threatening, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t threats. So recognizing - again, because you’re like “Mireille, that’s a feeling, not a thought”, and I’m like “Yes, but remember, I said they go together.”

So if I’m thinking a certain way or really getting stuck in the emotion, and then go “Oh, what do I do now? I just am anxious, I can’t do anything. What are some of the ways that I can help myself crawl out of that?”, going back to your original question.

Look for other data points.

We’ve said that a lot. Is that your response to almost everything, Mireille?

…look for other data points? I’m not poking fun at you, I just think it seems to be a common trend, find more data to support how you’re feeling or not.

Well, you’re doing an investigation, and if you just look at one piece of information, how does that tell the before, the during, and the after? It doesn’t. So I wanna look at “What might have been going on before I started feeling this way?” If I’m like “Look, every Friday at noon I start to get really anxious, or I start to feel really bad. I get nauseous.” I’m like “What is going on?” And then I realize I have to do a presentation every Friday at one.

That’s a good reason to feel that way. Nerves… Yeah, okay.

Yeah. So when I say “Get more data”, it’s like, build the broader scene; help yourself see other facets to what you’re going through, what could be contributing to your feeling, or the way in which you’re thinking. I feel guilty every time I don’t meet my boss’s expectations. Okay… Has your boss made it exactly clear, like “This is when X, Y or Z needs to be submitted”?

[24:06] We’ve talked about this in the work from home episode, relative to not getting feedback when you’re working from home, because nobody can see you… And going “How do I manage those thoughts?”, like “Oh, man, I must not be doing enough. I’m not producing, I don’t think I’m very valuable to my workplace, because I’m just not producing.”

Well, are you getting other data from your boss, from your co-workers? Have you asked? Have you even said “Hey, I kind of feel like I might be underperforming”? Or “How can you tell me more about what’s going on, because I think I woulda/coulda/shoulda done more?” which again, that would be another discussion.

We’ll link that episode in the show notes for those listening, so you don’t have to go searching and finding. We’ll link it up. But you know, on that note, if you’re feeling a certain way like that, is how you’re feeling represented by just your emotion and data? That’s what it sounds like you’re saying, “Is my reasoning, in particular to this distortion, my emotional reasoning, supported by just my emotion?” Like some sort of support system where it needs to be supported by both your emotions and data. Think of it like a structure. So missing one of those legs is just a stick, or one leg; I don’t know how to describe it.

Well, [unintelligible 00:25:29.09]

It’s gonna be distorted.

Right. I use the analogy of like a wishbone.

Okay, yeah. I was trying to make a visual, but it was upside down, wishbone… And I was like “Okay.” It makes sense.

Yeah, but you need both sides, because that’s gonna help it balance. And if I added even another third segment, so it’s like a tripod…

Right… Which is more data points. But the point was if you’re just standing on emotions only, and not data…

It’s like a pogo stick, yeah.

Right. You’re gonna be off-balance, off-kilter, off-set. So the way to counteract this one in particular, or maybe others as well, is to get more data… But don’t just stand on the finale of your feelings being just based on feelings alone. You need more support, more evidence, reasoning that’s sound.

Yeah. Well, if we think about it relative to balance, think about even the way in which our bodies move. If I tilt too far to one side, I help counter that by extending another limb in the alternative direction, right? There’s an up and a down to help recalibrate and come back to more of a centered space.

So we’re on number one. We’ve got four here. How can we tackle the rest?

So the next one I wanna talk about is labeling… Or mislabeling really might be the better word. We’ve talked about “Name it to tame it” and going “It’s so important for us to be able to have an emotional vocabulary”, but labeling things in this case for distortion is generalizing one or two qualities into a negative global judgment relative to oneself or others. So it’s a projection of sorts. Even saying “I’m stupid. I made a mistake at work; I missed something that was important. I forgot a meeting. Ugh…!”, so now I’m labeling myself as dumb. Or even I could be like “I’m so forgetful.” No, you just forgot. That’s a different way to label. “No, you just forgot.”

Yeah. I think of it like “This might happen to everyone. Or has happened to someone at least once. Is feeling somebody’s worthless?” So not that this is truth, but maybe you’re just not fully aware. I think of clerks; convenience store clerks, grocery store clerks… People that are just part of your passer-by scenarios in life. Just checking out, human involved, not really checking in with them as a human; they’re just sort of there. Not that they’re worthless, but you don’t say hello to them, maybe you don’t say hi by the first name…

[28:16] I made it a point to specifically look at their name tag and say “Hey Suzy”, “Hey Ben”, whatever that person’s name was, and connect, and not emotionally tag them as worthless or meaningless in my day-to-day interactions. So I’m not saying those people are, I’m just saying that’s a scenario too where you’ll just do life, and you’ll treat somebody like they’re worthless or meaningless because someone in your brain you’ve mentally applied a label that says “Meaningless. Worthless”, whatever.

Right. It’s really this extreme form of an over-generalization. It involves describing an event with language that’s highly colored and emotionally loaded.

Wow… Yeah.

See how inescapable that is? If I’m like “Oh, I did this one thing, and now “Ooh, I just blew it up!” It’s not gonna help me contend with that any better, nor is it gonna make me want to go back and try again.

So you could even think about this, if I’m to go back to our conversation relative to ACEs, of - we all label things as kids. And so I could have had an experience and go “Oh, gosh… No, I had this one really bad thing…” or “I was exposed to this violence, be it emotional or physical, and I use this word to calm myself, as based on how I got in trouble, and then had really severe negative/abusive experiences as a kid.” Now I have to try to re-label what that was; I wanna put up some guard rails, so to speak, and say “That was what happened to you as a child. That is not who you are as an adult, and those aren’t accurate words that really should be said to anyone.”

It sounds to me like these distortions are coping gone wrong… Right?

Yup… Yeah.

At one point it was useful, a good utility to act or perform a certain way because of abuse, because of violence, because of whatever happened, and you made certain coping choices along the way, whether they were informed or not… And eventually they’ve just gone wrong for you.

Yeah, and you don’t feel like there’s an opportunity for recovery… So that’s where you get stuck, of going “This is just what happened, and this is always the way that it’s gonna be”, and that isn’t true in the slightest.

The next one I wanna talk about is blaming. This isn’t that profound, but that blaming people doesn’t really work. If I hold other people responsible for my emotional pain, or blame myself… It doesn’t just have to be other people, it could be “It’s always only ever my fault.”

An example would be you hand in your portion of the project late, and say it was because of a mistake someone else made. You’re blaming them and denying your share of the responsibility for your actions. I’m sure that never happens in the workplace…

I’ve never done that; it’s never been done against me… Never…

[laughs] This is one of the challenges with working on teams, because it’s a perpetual reallocation, and like “What was my part? What could I have done differently?” Well, if they did turn it in late, then okay…

[31:52] Yeah, yeah. You know, I’m not in charge of anybody else, and so even if – or I like to use the word “while”. While other people make other choices, you didn’t. Now what are you gonna choose?

Right, right. That’s why I think especially in teams in particular, having a foundation of love and respect is so crucial… Because you wouldn’t – I don’t know if [unintelligible 00:32:17.18] But you may not make this choice if there’s a foundation of love and respect. So if this were a real example, to examine further, that’s where I would look - whether the strength of love and respect… And what I mean by that is not so much like literal love and affection love, but more like “Do you have care and concern for your teammates?” and if so, respect flows because of that. You respect your teammates, you respect and care for them, and so therefore you wouldn’t label them as the reason for your mistake. It’s foundational in other ways, and that might be part of the examination and the data gathering portion of this.

Yeah, and to that point - and this would fit for blaming, as well as the labeling or mislabeling - is sort of the best friend test… Asking yourself “Would I say these things to my best friend? Would I say what I’m saying to myself and the internal criticism I’m giving to me - would I ever say those things or expect those things of my best friend?” Because usually there’s a different filter. My friend comes to me and they’re struggling, like “Man, I was trying so hard to do my best on this project, and I just wanted it so good, and then my colleagues submitted it late, and then I felt more pressured… And I’m just so mad. I’m just so dumb. I can’t believe that I couldn’t just put it together and get it out there.”

Wow. You’ve just combined both of these. Alright…

We can see how they layer. You can actually have layered distortions, combined.

Right. So as a best friend, my best friend would be like “Look, you’re doing the best you can.” And I think that’s a fundamental thing I wanna give to everyone, is going “Everybody’s doing the best they can, with what they’ve got”, even if it doesn’t measure up to your expectations.

This is so pertinent; this wasn’t part of the show, it’s not in the notes, but I thought this the other day and I wrote it down, and I was thinking about blogging about this, because this is just top of mind for me… It says “If you’re trying, you’re not failing. Failure is a stop-motion event. When you’re trying, you’re still in motion.”

I love it! Yes! Yes… I really want people to recognize the value of effort. It’s been in conversations with my husband and I lately relative to legacy and things that his parents and their parents - choices they made that we’re benefitting from… But they were like 50, 60-year pushes, with effort repeated over time, and it’s not like there wasn’t hardships within those… And I think too this sense of resiliency; trying also embodies “I practice the getting back up.” And sometimes I get hit really hard, and it might take me a longer while to get back up. But as long as I’m like “I’m gonna put forth the effort to try, try again, try again…” And that’s really too where I think people can have a lot of good feelings, and going like “Hey, I practice showing up. I tried again, even though I was fearful or I had the message internally that was like “I don’t know that you can do it. Let’s look at all the ways you failed in the past.”

I hate to think about Dory in this scenario, but she’s so right…

Just keep swimming. Just keep trying.

I say “Do it like Dory!”

[36:02] “Do it like Dory”? Do you say that?

That’s funny. That’s funny.

I do. And there’s that - oh, gosh - “What about Bob?”

Oh, gosh. Yes.

Have we mentioned that movie?

That’s my favorite movie ever. It might even be like Groundhog Day and What About Bob. But I think I would put What About Bob as my top all-time favorite movie ever.

Yeah, legit. I own it, for sure. On all the medias. VHS…

True confessions by Adam…

It’s like the [unintelligible 00:36:32.25] but you’ve bought it on all the media types.

LPs etc. You’ve got them all. Yes… What About Bob?

And really, that’s just it - where does the blame get you? It doesn’t move you in any direction. So you’re not taking baby steps, you’re not trying to keep swimming…

That’s a What About Bob reference, by the way, if you’re listening… Baby steps…

Yes. Baby steps.

Sorry to interrupt, but I just had to point that out.

Yes. Over and over. And this too is really out of the playbook of exposure therapy. If I expose myself to the thing that I’m fearful of/overwhelmed by, I reduce my sense of threat, and then I find out through direct experience I didn’t die. “Whew, I made it.”

This is exactly how mountain-biking works. I hate to keep bringing it up every episode or occasionally, but it’s the same thing; that’s how progression works with mountain-biking. There’s certain terrain that you’re just fearful of, and you’re like “Whoa… I can’t do that this time.” And you walk it, and that’s cool. There’s no shame in walking a feature.

Right. But you still did it. You still walked over the terrain, so all you did was lower the threshold.

Exactly, so you become more familiar with it… You start to see things in 3D, which is taking in more data… You’ve actually walked the steps. They call it “Choose your line”, so you choose which pathway through the feature you’ll go… And then you take the next baby step - “Well, I’ll walk it a little faster next time” or “The next time I’ll ride through half of it, or some of it, or at a slower speed, or a faster speed”, or whatever it might be. Whatever it is, you’re taking one more step towards conquering that feature, and it’s the same thing.

Yeah… I love that. So I pitch it in my coaching background. We used to do the under-loading or over-loading. Under-loading for a track would mean on a trampoline, or with additional supports, with a spotter, or a really wide piece of tape on the floor, instead of an actual four-inch-wide piece of wood, until you build that sense of confidence.

I want people to understand the actual positive emotions that can come, and the joy with the discovery… Like “I did it! I did it! I was worried, I doubted… And I did it!” And that then begins pushing you in a different direction, that also then builds more hope. So that’s where all the good stuff is.

Just keep trying. Just keep swimming. Do it like Dory.

Yeah. So it’s interesting to go from there to our last and final cognitive distortion, which is the fallacy of change.

Oh, boy…

So this is relative to believing that other people will change to suit us if we pressure or cajole them enough. If I expect somebody else, like “If only you’ll do this for me, Adam, then I will be happy.”

Yeah. Well, I think a lot of failed marriages are built upon that; relationships, generally are built upon that. “Eventually, this person will change. Eventually, I will change them. Eventually etc.”

I guess on the outside my first thought would be to accept people as they are, and to operate around who they are, rather than attempt and try and change them. That my future version of happiness with them isn’t based upon change, it’s based upon adaptation.

[40:14] Yeah. Well, I talk about it relative to like “Well, that would be ideal… Awesome.”

Right. It sounds easy. Done. Check.

Right? But that isn’t the way that it works, and so again, ironically, I’m taking back responsibility and going “While this person isn’t meeting my expectations, delivering on what I’d like or what I believe them to be capable of, what am I gonna do?” If your choice is your superpower, how can I choose while other people do whatever they’re doing?

Well, going back to three, with blaming - like, you are in charge of your choices. You have full control of your choices.

And so if that’s the case, make your own choice. Don’t let your choices be against or because of someone else, blaming them, or being in a relationship with someone of any type based upon something that isn’t part of your choice.

Yeah, I think about this - a really good picture is I grew up living in bigger cities, so I wasn’t really exposed to the two-lane road, country road style…

Oh, really? [laughter] Well, that’s where I grew up, so we’re the exact opposite.

So I was – goodness gracious; probably late twenties before I had that. And the pressure, when it’s a two-lane road, as based on the car behind you, who’s like “Come on.” I mean, they’re gonna tail, big time, until you speed up. I was like “I do not like this. This doesn’t feel good.” And vice-versa. If I do that to someone else, like “Move out of my way. Can’t you see I’m in a hurry?” I’m trying to push them into adherence, and giving me what I want. But this little thing, of just going “If I just pull over and let them pass, they can go on.” And that was my choice. If I don’t wanna be pressured like that, I’m gonna pull over, because obviously they are in that much of a hurry, so let it be. And then I can go on with my day, without allowing my mood to be totally in reactive, too.

Hijacked because of it.

Well, I think in scenarios like that - or others similar to it - we don’t always fully examine our options. To someone, the option to pull over and maybe put your arm out the window and wave them by isn’t an option considered, therefore not explored. So being able to slow your mind down enough to consider “What rational options do I have in this scenario?” and then pick one and give it a try.

Because you could have just slowed down, the person could have gotten irate and been one of those people behind you and it turned into a road rage situation… But instead, in this hypothetical situation, potentially real at some point in your life, you pulled over, or you slowed down at least and you put your arm out the window and said “Go ahead, go by”, politely.

And they went by, and everyone was safe and happy.

Yeah. So recognizing that we can actually change in response… It doesn’t mean it’s what I wanted per se, but I could choose to just keep going, and expect them to do it, and then when they don’t, like “Well, this guy/girl, I can’t believe!!” and I come in to work and I’m steamin’ hot… It’s like “Yup. Welcome to humanity.”

We all be people. We all be people.

[44:02] True that.

[laughs] Right? How’s that for educated?

Yes, that’s good. It’s good. So there’s a lot more than these four…

There’s a lot of distortions, and I’m not even sure if it’s a truly comprehensive, stamped by a doctor, approved list, or whatever… I don’t know how authoritative these distortions can be in a list; you could help our audience out there, but… There’s more than this. What do we want people to do because of these known distortions? Is the prescription to go and examine them, and self-label, and self-prescribe? What do we do?

Well, I’m so glad you asked… We talked about how important the awareness is. That’s sort of step one - if I’m not aware, I can’t change what I don’t know I do. So that, and then the reframe relative to “Get other information”. What is the context of the thoughts I’m thinking? Do they tend to happen the same day, at the same time, around the same person? Where do you notice any other factors that would help you better understand your thought process at that time?

And then finally, I think it’s helpful for people to consider the way in which there is the benefit. Because once upon a time it did pay us, in a way, to use these… But there might be a way that it’s continuing to benefit you. So how did these thought patterns help you cope with something in your past? For example, did they give you a sense of charge? Like “I had more control when I didn’t feel like I had any control.” And what does it cost me then if I continue to think in this way?

It’s challenging when dealing with our own mind, because it’s one abstract. I can’t pull out my thoughts, and in a sense manipulate them with my hands in a tactile way… But recognizing that there are ways in which we’ve used these to sort of work for us - it’s important to be able to recognize the way in which you actually forfeit something else by continuing to think in this way.

So when we recognize that we can direct our lives just in considering the way that we think - like I mentioned, with the soil, of going “What do you want to grow in your life?” And that at different times, in different ways, that facilitated not necessarily the growth you wanted in that way, but that it was more rooted in safety or survival… And asking yourself “Is there a way that maybe these thoughts or way of thinking aren’t serving where I wanna get to? They worked for me back then, but they don’t work for me in the same way. Just like we outgrow clothes, for one reason or another, recognizing that the thoughts we think contribute to how we feel, and how we feel contributes to how we think. And therefore, when I can hold those in my mind as I do my life and my days, I can begin to use those to inform other choices relative to work, relationships, and improving how I feel on really a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.


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