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What If? Cognitive Distortions and How to Combat Them

The ReThinking ManI go to counseling regularly; every two weeks, to be exact.

I currently participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a form of treatment that examines relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Our main man here at, Dr. John Grohol, wrote an article about 15 Cognitive Distortions, which are ways our mind convinces us of something that isn’t true.

In therapy, I examine the popular cognitive distortions, learn to recognize when I do them, and in turn, try to eradicate them as recurring thought patterns.

Months of analysis determined that “jumping to conclusions”, also called “fortune telling”, is my “favorite” cognitive distortion.

I do it all the time—I assume I know what people are thinking and feeling, and why they act the way they do.

I think I am able to determine what people think about me.

One of the things people do when they jump to conclusions or fortune-tell is conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them without bothering to see if their assumption is correct.

Another way to engage in fortune telling is to anticipate things will turn out badly, convinced that the negative prediction is actually fact.

Here are some of the errors I catch myself in frequently:

  • My husband is irritated/annoyed/impatient with me
  • My boss is stressed out because of me
  • The [insert social event here] is going to be terrible
  • The restaurant is going to be too crowded
  • Those people don’t like me
  • I’m being ignored (if my texts or phone calls aren’t answered)

And the list goes on!

My main weakness is fortune telling, but I also frequently engage in catastrophizing, polarized or “black and white” thinking, filtering, personalization, and should statements!

Assuming people think negatively of me has an effect on my self esteem and also affects how I feel about social situations and people in general.

Projecting that a social event will turn out negatively increases my anxiety and reinforces my desire to avoid social events.

So, What Can We Do About Them?

I’m not going to lie—it takes hard work to lessen these cognitive distortions. I don’t even know if it’s possible to eradicate them completely—I haven’t been able to get that far.

However, therapists, counselors, workbooks, and other materials can help you recognize the cognitive distortions, figure out which ones are issues for you, and learn how to keep them at bay and replace them with positive thoughts.

Approaches that help me:

  • What is the evidence for or against this thought?
  • What would I tell a friend with the same concern?
  • What is the worst that can realistically happen? How bad would that be?
  • Are there any other explanations?
  • Will this affect me in a day, week, or year?
  • Is this situation in my control? What can I do that is under my control?

The first step to combating cognitive distortions is recognizing which ones are negatively affecting us. Many times we are unaware that we are even doing them; they become automatic thoughts.

If you think cognitive distortions are negatively affecting your life, one option is using a CBT tool to help examine your negative thoughts and behaviors.

What cognitive distortion do you think affects you the most? Here is a list of 50 of them!


Photo Credit: Creative Commons License amira_a via Compfight

What If? Cognitive Distortions and How to Combat Them

Kat Dawkins

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APA Reference
Dawkins, K. (2013). What If? Cognitive Distortions and How to Combat Them. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Aug 2013
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