DiscoverThe Psychology of It AllCognitive Distortions: Overgeneralization and Mental Filter
Cognitive Distortions: Overgeneralization and Mental Filter

Cognitive Distortions: Overgeneralization and Mental Filter

Update: 2019-01-25
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Today I am going to continue going through cognitive distortions. Like defense mechanisms, a cognitive distortion is a habit of mind that we rapidly deploy to convince ourselves how right we are in our understanding of the circumstances around us, for the purpose of reducing our perception of distress. For more on defense mechanisms download and listen to the previous episodes. 


Short of a life-threatening situation it is wise to second guess what your brain is telling you. Our minds have developed a habit of making connections between thoughts, ideas, actions, and consequences to help us draw conclusions and make assumptions. However, sometimes these connections are made with incomplete information, and therein lies the problem. 


Cognitive distortions are the biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we have unknowingly reinforced over time. The first step to behaving rationally is to be aware of our biases and work to achieve a balanced perspective. 


Over generalization is when we assume one instance is representative of all similar situations. This can become especially pronounced in instances of anxiety and depression. Over generalization and mental filtering are among the most difficult depressive symptoms to treat, and they can lead to an entrenched negative thought pattern. For example: Perhaps you gave a poor performance once, then you assume and believe that all subsequent performances will be equally bad. Over generalization can cut both ways for example: In the area of sex, you may have an instance in which you fail to rise to the occasion and then you perpetuate this anxiety and create a self-fulfilling prophecy: you fool yourself into a confirmatory bias. You try again but you are so anxious that you do not become aroused and you reinforce your cognitive distortion that you are impotent. 


Or perhaps you made an investment against all odds that happens to pan out, and now you are convinced that you are the new oracle and Buffett better look out. When the investment does not pan out again you use all sorts of mental gymnastics (like defense mechanisms and other cognitive distortions) to convince yourself the loss was abnormal, and you try to repeat the irrational behavior again. Depending on your mental rigidity you may become stuck in this self-sabotaging pattern. 


So how do you overcome this irrational behavior so that you can be the stud you really are, so you can cut your losses, sell your losers, and regain your mojo?


Step 1 Recognize your thought pattern? Write down the belief that this driving your behavior.


Step 2 Challenge your belief. Ask yourself if what you are convinced of is actually true? What evidence do you have to support your conviction? What would someone else say about your conviction? Have you had an alternative experience? Could you possibly envision an alternative scenario?


Step 3: Replace your thought pattern be it overly negative or excessively rosy. Rather than thinking you are terrible lover who will never get it up again, consider the possibility that perhaps you ate too much or drank too much? There is nothing like a big meal and alcohol to divert the blood flow from your penis to your stomach and liver. Similarly, rather than think you are the new oracle, recognize that perhaps there was an unusual occurrence in the market that led to your isolated return on investment, and the market really does prefer predictability. As they say of investing advice past performance is not indicative of future results. Your past falter is not a guarantee of future falter.


Over generalizing can cause you to adopt some views that are incongruent with your moral compass for example a person of a particular race, faith, ideology, treated you in a certain way and then you forever more assume that a

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Cognitive Distortions: Overgeneralization and Mental Filter

Cognitive Distortions: Overgeneralization and Mental Filter

Dr. Raymond Zakhari, NP