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8 Mental Tricks that Keep You From Happiness: Cognitive Distortions

Living in Phoenix requires having a good pair of sunglasses.

I often forget that I’m even wearing them. Our brains adjust to the lenses that filter out the bright rays and it appears as though we are seeing things accurately.

This same phenomenon happens with our thoughts. Our brain makes leaps to fill in the gaps based on the filtered information it receives. This is great, as long as the information is accurate and favorable to our psyche. It’s not so great if your filter skews negative, causing you to assume the worst. It’s like wearing unusually dark sunglasses that obscure your vision. In psychology, we call these negative thought patterns “cognitive distortions”.

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and unreasonable thoughts that cause us to misperceive reality, leading a person to feel bad. There are over a dozen common cognitive distortions that people tend to fall prey to. Here are a few classic examples:

1) Filtering

magnifying the negative details from a situation while filtering out all of the positive aspects.

2) All or nothing thinking

viewing everything as “good” or “bad” in an overly dogmatic fashion; believing that you must be perfect or a failure, allowing for no middle ground

3) Over-generalization—

coming to a conclusion about your capabilities based upon a single incident or piece of evidence; when something bad happens once, the expectation is that it will happen over and over again

4) Mind reading

presuming to understand how others feel and to know why they act as they do; particularly believing that you know how others feel about you

5) Catastrophizing

expecting disaster from every interaction or situation

Stuck on Catastrophic Thoughts?

6) Personalization

thinking that everything people do or say is a reaction to you; constantly comparing yourself to others in an effort to determine who is more intelligent, better looking, and so forth

7) Blaming

holding others responsible for the pain you feel, or blaming yourself for every problem

8) Shoulds

having a list of restrictive rules about how you and others should act; becoming angered when others break these rules or feeling guilty if you violate them


Now think about your own life: What cognitive distortions tend to plague you? If a friend or family member were to describe a similar situation, would you see their situation through the same lens, or would you recognize the distortion for what it was?

It takes practice to remove the lenses. By recognizing these distortions and then challenging them, you can shift your thoughts and in-turn shift how you view yourself in the world.


Jamie Dana

Jamie Dana

Jamie Dana, MC, LPC, helps teens and adults overcome mental roadblocks and achieve their goals to live an elevated life. Specialties include research-based interventions to address stress and anxiety, trauma, self-esteem, eating issues and struggles of the gifted and high-achieving population. For more information about her techniques, services and additional resources to help you succeed, check her out at or follow us on Facebook and Instagram. You can also Contact her to schedule an initial appointment today