There’s now a term for those of us who are quick to jump to the [often wrong] conclusion – it’s known as cognitive distortions.
When I started researching ‘jumping to conclusions’, I was blown away by it being an actual condition. The more I read about it, the more I realized how prevalent this negative thought pattern was in our everyday lives. Taken to the extreme, professional advice should be sought.
According to Wikipedia, “Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately. These thinking patterns often reinforce negative thoughts or emotions. Cognitive distortions tend to interfere with the way a person perceives an event. Because the way a person feels intervenes with how they think, these distorted thoughts can feed negative emotions and lead an individual affected by cognitive distortions towards an overall negative outlook on the world and consequently a depressive or anxious mental state.”
In other words, we are continually making [often negative] assumptions and creating stories around situations and people that are in fact not based on fact, but rather on perception. This is dangerous – and is related to drawing a correlation or connection around something that is simply a coincidence (but I’ll leave that topic for another article!) – not a fact.
The good news is that we have the ability to turn things around – and use our tendency for cognitive distortion to force us to think about the facts.
Take my example for instance, the other day I was out with my family – and looking for a parking spot. I parked my car and next to me a young guy dropped his rusted bike in a parking spot and dashed off to get a parking ticket. My immediate thoughts were: “How can this guy take up a whole parking spot when there are nearby bike racks – plus he’s getting a parking ticket – it doesn’t make sense? He’s selfish.” – my thoughts then lead to, “he must’ve stolen the bike, he looks scruffy and his bike looks old – plus he has creepy crystal blue eyes”.
Then, whilst I was putting my parking ticket in my car, I noticed that he was directing a car into that spot. Now I was confused. “How dare he save a spot for someone else – just imagine if everyone started doing that!
Once the car had parked, I confronted him and politely asked what was going on. He said that he had friends visiting from out east and didn’t want them to have to search for a parking spot in a strange place, so he wanted to make it easy for them and organize a spot and the parking ticket for them.
What? How could I have misread the situation so drastically? The thief, with the now beautiful crystal blue eyes was actually a lovely guy, with seemingly lovely friends.
My jumping to conclusions bothered me. What made me concoct such a negative story? Was it because I’m an immigrant who grew up in a not so safe country; was it simply in my DNA to think the worst; was it society that made me always think the worst – or was it because it was something that I’d never seen done before, so assumed the worst outcome? Whatever the reason, I decided that I needed to change and the good news is that it’s not too late – and I’m apparently not alone.
According to John M. Grohol of Psychcentral and David D. Burns, author of The feeling good handbook: Using the new mood therapy in everyday life, if I follow the steps below, I will be on my road to recovery:
- Identify your cognitive distortion: Make a list of – and track your troubling thoughts.
- Examine the evidence: Examine your troubling thoughts and think about them in more detail. What are the facts and what is fiction?
- Double standard method: Talk to yourself in a kind and compassionate way and give yourself room to be honest.
- Thinking in shades of grey: Think of things on a scale of 0-100, instead of black and white. Partial successes are fine.
- Survey method: Speak to others to help you determine whether or not your perceptions are realistic.
- Definitions: Think about how you view yourself – if you view yourself in a negative way, you will often perceive situations more negatively.
- Re-attribution: Think in terms of solutions, not problems – and consider all the people involved – are there external factors that could’ve contributed to the problem? i.e. Don’t immediately blame yourself.
- Cost-benefit analysis: What are the benefits and drawbacks of your feelings, thoughts and/or behavior? What are you gaining by thinking in a negative way?
Cognitive distortion impacts how we work, who we work with and our overall mental health. It’s important to take how you perceive situations honestly, so that you can be better at managing your relationships, both at work and in your personal life.