Have thoughts like these ever crossed your mind?

"I got an A on that test? I must have just gotten lucky."

"I can't believe I made that mistake. Everyone must be making fun of me now."

"I'm the worst friend in the entire world."

These are all examples of cognitive distortions: your mind leads you to believe things about yourself or the world, when they're not true.

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Most people experience cognitive distortions occasionally. But if they persist long-term, this type of thinking can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.

Being able to identify 7 common cognitive distortions can help you avoid getting stuck in negative thinking patterns.

1. Polarized Thinking

Flaticon Icon Looking at things in terms of black and white...

Flaticon Icon without considering the shades of gray in between.

For example:

You start a new daily workout plan but give up on it because you missed a day. Looking at the situation as only success or failure prevents you from seeing your progress and achievements.

Polarization is also called all-or-nothing thinking or either/or thinking.

2. Over-Generalization

Taking the results of one event and applying it to all future events.

For example:

You experience one negative relationship and decide you're terrible at relationships overall.

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Overgeneralized thoughts often include words like always, never, everything, and nothing.

3. Filtering

Filtering out positive aspects of a situation, and only focusing on the negatives.

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For example:

You gave a presentation in class and it went pretty well. You stumbled a few times, and that is all you can think about. You feel like you failed.

4. Personalization

Taking things personally even if they are not connected to you, like:

Flaticon Icon Blaming yourself for situations that are not your fault or are out of your control.

Flaticon Icon Assuming that you've been excluded or targeted, even though it's not true.

For example:

Your friend mentions they didn't enjoy the party you went to together the night before. You blame yourself since you think you're the reason they didn't enjoy it.


Taylor is meeting with their boss. The boss compliments them on several achievements, & points out one thing Taylor could improve. Taylor worries about the one thing for the rest of the day and feels like a terrible employee. What distortion is this?

5. Mind Reading

Jumping to conclusions about what another person is thinking, particularly assuming that they see you in a negative light.

Moira from Schitt's Creek saying: And you immediately leap to conclusions.

For example:

Your partner doesn't smile at you, and you assume this means they're upset with you. In reality, they may have just been having a bad day.

6. Catastrophizing

Tending to always jump to the worst-case scenario.

When someone catastrophizes, they might end up in a spiral of "what if" questions.

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For example:

Your paycheck doesn't arrive in the mail. You start to think: "What if it never comes?", "What if I can't pay rent on time?", "What if we get kicked out of our apartment?".

7. Emotional Reasoning

Believing that your emotions represent reality and accepting them as fact.

In other words, "I feel this way, therefore it must be true."

For example:

You feel guilty about a situation. Emotional reasoning leads you to think that you're a bad person.


Pam sees her friend, Ned, across the street and waves. Ned doesn't wave back. Pam thinks he must be mad at her. What cognitive distortion is this?

Take Action

Now that you know about some common cognitive distortions, do your best to recognize them as they arise. The next steps are to learn to address and manage them.

Check out these Bytes that may help you take these next steps:

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