DiscoverThe Psychology of It AllAll or nothing thinking: Cognitive Distortions
All or nothing thinking: Cognitive Distortions

All or nothing thinking: Cognitive Distortions

Update: 2019-01-08



For the next few weeks, I am going to be explaining Cognitive Distortions and the role they play in self-sabotage. So let me begin by first defining what I mean by a Cognitive Distortion. Cognitive distortions are the biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unwittingly reinforce over time, to the point where they become automatic and almost reaction like. If you recall from the previous series on Defense Mechanisms, reactions can be trained. The goal is to train our thinking to reduce bias and contend with reality. 

The first step in preparing the brain how to think clearly is to recognize the need to change.  The difficulty in realizing the necessity lies in our tendency to strongly believe in our objectivity. Actually, we think there is no possible way we are holding on to any blatantly false beliefs. I hate to break it to you, but you are a mere mortal. The difference between occasionally believing your own nonsense, and those who are perpetually and consistently convinced of it, rests in the ability and willingness to confront our patterns of thinking. 

Cognitive distortions are automatic thought processes that interfere with our ability to consider other ways of thinking about a situation. When we become overly reliant on thesse thought errors, we tend to interpret our world in ways that fuel mental distress and emotions such as depression, anxiety, and anger. 

 All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in extremes – something is either fabulous or foul, you are either great success or a total failure. It is not difficult to see how this type of thinking can cause you to self sabotage. 

For example, imagine you are on a job interview and you get asked a question you deem out of left field. Things were going very well up until that point. You realize that you did not answer the question exactly how you would have liked, but instead, you immediately disparage yourself as utterly unqualified and assume the entire interview was a horrible waste of time. 

This is the same type of cognitive distortion that sabotages most New Year’s resolutions. It reinforces the fallacy that one indiscretion has ruined everything done thus far. How many of you have decided to go on a diet? And you are doing well on day 1, and day 2, and then day 3 you ate a cookie. You deem your efforts a failure and therefore you eat the rest of the cookies, and you deploy defense mechanisms to reinforce your biased thinking ( I really like how my fat pushes out my wrinkles making me appear younger, who needs to lose weight anyway). The fact remains you may indeed need to lose the extra pounds for your physical health and well-being and your cognitive distortion is sabotaging your efforts.  

So how do you fix this faulty thought process? The answer is to recognize shades of grey. Just because you have a thought or a feeling it does not make it a fact.

Facts require evidence to support them. Ask yourself, What evidence do you have for your thoughts? What evidence is there against your automatic thought? Are you thinking rationally or are you having an irrational emotional reaction? 

Force yourself to come up with other plausible explanations for alternatives. Just practicing this will allow you to slow down enough to process and truly confront reality. 

Did you really gain back all the weight you lost by eating 1 cookie? Did you really blow the interview because the one question caught you off guard? Are your self-sabotaging thoughts helping you achieve your goals? Is it possible that you are interpreting the situation all wrong?









All or nothing thinking: Cognitive Distortions

All or nothing thinking: Cognitive Distortions

Dr. Raymond Zakhari, NP