Dish on Distortions (#1)

6 Jul

For the next couple months I’m going to dish out a shovelful of insight into one distortion per week. What do I mean by distortion? We all– yes all (this could be looked at as a distortion as you’ll see shortly)– engage in thinking errors that can lead to barriers in our ability to function optimally.  A cognitive distortion is a faulty thought or belief that creates an ugly, misinformed gap and prevents us from taking positive actions.

For example, take the individual who is dieting for weight loss and eats a brownie at the office.  Co-workers brought in a glorious array of baked goods, and she wanted to partake.  She wrestled with the decision to eat the brownie and her thoughts looked something like this: “I can’t eat that.” “I could eat it, but then my whole day would be ruined.” I’ve had a really good day so far. Am I going to mess it up by eating that?”  She ends up forgoing the brownie. But all she obsessed about for the next hour was the brownie. “I can’t have that. I can’t have that.” ran wild across the marquee of her brain. A sense of urgency overcame her and she rushed to the break room and devoured the cakey goodness. Instant guilt invaded her and she thought, “I can’t believe I just lost control like that. I’m such a failure at this dieting. I’m never going to lose weight. Now I’ve ruined my whole day.” She looked at the tray of desserts and proceeded to eat a few more. “I’ll just start fresh tomorrow,” she thought.

If you can relate: 1. You’re not alone; 2. You can improve with practice; 3. Becoming aware of your thoughts is the first step to changing them.  Notice the black and white thinking– this is cognitive distortion #1. Rigid, unrealistic, dichotomous cognitions set the stage for feeling caged and out of control.  We all need structure, but set up such stringent guidelines and you leave no room for flexibility to enjoy life. A brownie– you can lose weight and eat a brownie. All the time and for every meal? No. But set up a list of forbidden foods (black and white: BAD OR GOOD), and what are the first foods you desire?

Identify your “rules.” Take some time today to pay attention to your thoughts. Write them down. Now examine them. Are they leading you toward growth and setting you up for success?

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2 Responses to “Dish on Distortions (#1)”

  1. Stephanie Stean July 7, 2011 at 1:11 PM #

    Can you explain: Identify your “rules.”? I want to make sure I am understanding you. Also, can you share an example of distorted thinking in your own competitive life, and how you overcame it? Not sure if that is too personal of a question for you. Thanks.

    • kpropst July 8, 2011 at 10:17 AM #

      Steph, Thanks for your questions and comments!

      “Rules” I would define as guidelines we put in place for ourselves. Some can be positive, some negative. If a rule helps to hold us accountable, but incorporates a healthy level of flexibility and does not feel limiting, binding, or cause “death”, I’d deem it a positive one. For example, a “rule” I have for myself is that I will not cohabitate with my future partner. I’ve made the decision that in order to get to know this person fully, to allow for self-growth and relationship growth, and to make the least biased decision about whether this person is something I want to spend my life with eventually, I want to maintain that level of separation. I see it as fostering growth.

      If, however, a “rule” creates a structure that sets one up for unhealthy, dysfunctional behavior, for example, “I will not eat after 7pm” and this consistently leads to binging, I would consider it a negative rule. It’s important to assess the goals that surround the rule. If the goal is weight loss in this case, this rule is unnecessary. Identifying whether the “restriction” creates a structure that leads to growth and long term success is important. Is there evidence that not eating after 7pm will produce the most beneficial weight loss effects? No. It’s unrealistic.

      I’ve struggled with and often encounter distorted thinking in my own life. We will all have thoughts like these, but while I have them, it does not mean that I act on them. I have practiced awareness in order to recognize I’m having them and then have that “second thought.”

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