The world is full of advice like, “Trust your gut” or “Follow your instincts” or “Listen to your heart.” And there are certain situations in which such advice is important to follow. If you’re in a poorly lit area walking alone, for instance, and your gut suddenly tells you that you might be in danger, it’s better to follow that instinct and get to safety than to ignore it and put yourself in harm’s way.
But there are a lot of situations where you could be sabotaging yourself with your thinking.
Sometimes our minds and emotions aren’t always giving us the best information. Sometimes, they’re not even aligned with reality. There are certain patterns of thought you can get into that get in the way of your own happiness and growth, and you usually don’t even realize that they’re inaccurate. Sometimes, mental health professionals refer to these self-sabotaging mindsets as “cognitive distortions.” In other words, these ways of thinking separate you from reality and almost always contribute to unhappiness. Here are some common cognitive distortions that may be sabotaging your happiness:
If you’re a habitual filterer, then you tend to tune out the good in a situation and only see the bad. The bad is what will linger in your memory and what you’re more likely to talk about to other people.
For example: Say you throw a party where all of the guests have a great time, people who have never met each other before are connecting well and getting along, and everyone likes the food so much that you don’t end up with any leftovers. The next day when a friend who couldn’t make it asks you how it went, you say, “It was fine, but I didn’t make enough food. We ran out before the party ended.”
To a black-or-white thinker, most things in the world – including their own level of success – are one-way-or-the-other situations; there’s no room for shades of nuance in this mindset. This can lead to judgmental thinking about others who don’t live up to your standards and also to judgmental thinking about yourself.
For example: Imagine that you complete an assignment for your supervisor at work and she tells you that everything worked well except for one section that she’d like you to take a second try at. You internalize this feedback as, “I didn’t do the assignment right. I’m a failure.” Because it wasn’t perfect, you think it was garbage.
You may have heard the terms “internal locus of control” and “external locus of control.” Generally, people who have an external locus of control believe that things that happen to them are out of their control; everything good is luck and everything bad is some cruel trick of fate. On the contrary, people with an internal locus of control believe that they have the power to influence their own lives in significant, meaningful ways. If an internal locus of control sounds healthier, that’s because it is, but it’s also possible to take “internal control” thinking too far. Some people can take this mindset to an unhealthy extent by believing that even things that genuinely are out of their control are their own fault.
For example: Say a reckless driver runs into you while you’re in the passenger’s seat. Someone with an overdeveloped internal locus of control might think, “Why didn’t I warn the driver? Why wasn’t I paying more attention?” On the other hand, if the reckless driver himself had a strong external locus of control, he might think, “Another stroke of bad luck for me!” Going too far in either direction isn’t mentally healthy.
If this term sounds like an oxymoron, it’s because it often can be. Emotional reasoning is when you let your in-the-moment feelings dictate what you think the reality is.
For example: If you’re a generally healthy eater but eat one particularly decadent meal at a restaurant – a loaded-up burger with a huge portion of fries and chocolate cheesecake for dessert, maybe – then you’ll almost definitely feel heavier for a few hours after the big meal. But a person who uses emotional reasoning thinks that because they feel fat, they are. They misjudge their temporary feelings as a new state of reality.
This fallacy consists of thinking that something that happened in one particular place and time is true in general. People can apply this wrong way of thinking to themselves or to the world around them or both.
For example: Imagine you’re on your way home from work and another driver rudely cuts you off, almost causing an accident in the process. You think to yourself, “This city is full of the worst, rudest people.” Everyone in the city isn’t the same as that one rude driver, but because you’re upset you overgeneralize his negative traits onto the city as a whole.
The social media age makes this self-sabotaging mindset harder to kick than ever before. It involves looking at other people’s successes and happinesses and wondering why yours don’t match up. When you do this, you ignore the fact that they might be in totally different circumstances than yours, and might have begun from a totally different starting line, and instead focus on how you don’t seem to be measuring up.
For example: You see yet another engagement announcement photo on Instagram and wonder, “Why am I so behind? Why can’t I get it together and find someone who wants to marry me?” Even if your life is on a great track and you’re generally happy with your choices, you let other people’s lives invalidate what’s good about yours.
If you’re interested in reading more about these cognitive distortions and overcoming them?
A really good place to start is Dr. David D. Burns’s Feeling Good and The Feeling Good Handbook. Burns was one of the first to popularize these ideas and create easily understandable examples of them, so his books are great resources.
Mindsets can be one of the most difficult things to change about your life, but the positive effects of doing so are worth the effort. If you want to talk more about how you can stop sabotaging your own mindset, you can call call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how working with one of our therapists can help you improve your life.