Today's blog focuses heavily on the mental aspect of what is getting in the way of our goals. Admittedly, it's probably the least favorable area we like to spend time working on. It takes work to change our thoughts and it takes courage to face the way we have allowed our thought to dictate the way we treat ourselves. Specifically, I’m talking about negative thoughts such as judgments and distortions that help keep us small. Psychologists refer to these thoughts as cognitive distortions. These inaccurate thoughts falsely represent reality and convince you that a situation is out of your control. What’s even worse, cognitive distortions can become automatic thus preventing you from experience the large breathe of emotions and actions available to the human being.
Cognitive psychologist, David Burns, author of Feeling Good lists 10 variations of cognitive distortions. While a google search will easily present over 50 distortions, 10 is a good place to start. These popular ones include: all or nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions, magnification and minimization, emotional reasoning, labeling and mislabeling, and personalization. You can read more about each distortion and additional ones here and here.
What thoughts in the last week or month have preventing you from achieving your goals? Are you an all or nothing kind of gal/guy (I already had a Vanilla latter, there goes my whole day)? Do you magnify or minimize a situation to serve your immediate gratification (It’s just one cookie)? Have you personalized comments said by friends or family and questions just exactly what they meant by it (example)
Let’s take a look at an example of some thoughts from a client:
What’s the point of working out? The scale hasn’t changed in 2 months and I’ll never be skinny. I’m so frustrated and yet I hardly eating anything.
The personal trainer in me wants to provide possible explanations in response to my client’s frustration. For example, I may suggest doing measurements to see if she is getting slimmer and the scale reflects an exchange of fat for muscle rather than an indefinite change. Or I could suggest writing her food down for us to review because if she really is eating nothing, then her body could be in starvation mode which prevents weight loss. While my responses provide knowledge, the real issue is calling attention to how these thoughts have affected her motivation and commitment.
Here are some helpful tips for addressing cognitive distortions.
1. Notice them when they happen. Keep a journal of the thoughts you think around food and exercise.
2. Ask yourself if these thoughts are completely true (both in reality and on a rational level).
3. If not, identify which distortions you’re experiencing. People tend to have a few dominant ones.
4. Rewrite the thought.
We’ll talk more about cognitive distortions and negative self talk in later post. If you’d like more practice with cognitive distortions, I recommend reading Feeling Good. There are a few exercises that allow you become familiar with recognizing these thoughts.