Did you know?


After his first audition, American actor Sidney Poitier was told by the casting director, "Why don't you stop wasting people's time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?" Poitier went on to win an Oscar and become one of the most highly-regarded actors in Hollywood.


“We Are What We Think”

In the 16th century, the famous poet Edmund Spencer wrote, “It is the mind that maketh good or ill, that maketh wretched or happy, rich or poor.” Our thoughts often do determine outcomes, and some would argue that we have the power to manage pain and even cure disease through right thinking. We’ve certainly all had the experience of feeling anxious after talking to a complaining friend, or agitated after watching a violent movie, or depressed after venting anger at someone. What is in our head—and how we choose to react to it—can have a profound effect on how we think about ourselves, how we treat others and how we relate to the world.


Cognitive Distortions

Dr. John Grohol, the founder of Psych Central, has written about 15 Common Cognitive Distortions that reinforce negative (and self-destructive) thinking and feelings.


1. Filtering.

We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.


2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).

In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.


3. Overgeneralization.

In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.


4. Jumping to Conclusions.

Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us. For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.


5. Catastrophizing.

We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”). For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).


6. Personalization.

Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc. A person engaging in personalization may also see himself/herself as the cause of some unhealthy external event that he/she was not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”


Continue reading about Dr. John Grohol’s Cognitive Distortions. 


Some Tips for Sidestepping the Negative

• Dwell on the things that make you happy, not sad—This might seem obvious, but how many times have you effortlessly indulged in gossip or negative thinking that just dragged you down afterwards? Accentuate the positive—complete a task, chat with a caring friend, set a goal, stay true to your principles, learn a new skill, take a risk, help someone in need, etc.


• Live in the moment. Enjoy where you are right now. Resist the impulse to look over your shoulder at the past or to worry too much about the future, which you can’t control anyway. Focus on TODAY.


• Laugh . . . a lot. Frequent laughter releases endorphins in the brain and elevates mood. It also improves the immune system and opens blood vessels in the brain for better circulation and delivery of important nutrients to brain cells.


• Project what you want back. If you are cynical, apathetic, and complaining, that’s probably what you’ll attract back. If you keep ending up in relationships and circumstances that are frustrating and lead nowhere, the first step is to look at yourself. Think of how you can model what you want, and make an effort to be around the people you want to be like.


• When something bad happens, give it a different spin. When circumstances don’t go your way, it is tempting to assume that you somehow caused it, turning yourself into a victim. Don’t deny what’s happened—deal with the pain forthrightly, but reframe how you interpret it. Did you learn something from the experience? Did it make you a better person? Can you build on it for future success?


• Make Inside and Out Match.  Make best efforts to be the same person in your home that you are in the world. When you behave with graciousness, pride, and moderation within your home, it is much more likely that you will bring the same manner into the world.


• Do what you love a little bit every day. Make it a priority to engage in those things that make you especially proud and happy and calm. Whether it’s working out at the gym or starting a new watercolor, set aside a little “Me” time every day. 


• Keep the dream. There are hundreds of stories of successful entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, and athletes who had miserable childhoods, numerous setbacks, and little encouragement as they were coming up in the world. What they also had was persistence, tenacity, and a vision for themselves that guided and goaded them forward.



Check out Bruce Lipton’s fascinating book  The Biology of Belief, which offers new insights into the power of mind over matter.