Styles of thinking or as they are called in psychology cognitive distortions, come from the work of Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and others. They are thought patterns that lead us down twisted paths in our thinking processes.
Take for example filtering. We take a negative detail and magnify while we filter out all the positive aspects of a conversation or situation. The negative becomes larger. What may have started out as having a keen sense of where you could have done better or a knack for seeing what is missing in situations, could develop into having a biased view of things in which you never can see or feel the positive. Fox News is expert at teaching people how to filter. This habit becomes a dull, narrow and depressing way to see yourself and the world.
Another one that is popular in our media and culture is polarized thinking. We see things in extremes as good or bad, black or white. We have to be perfect or we fail. When there is little room for middle ground in our minds or in our culture, life becomes bizarrely extreme. The media can start and run with rumors that we know are outrageous, but because we get accustomed to thinking this way personally, it doesn’t feel or look like a stretch when we read it in the news.
Another favorite of Fox News is catastrophizing. This is always thinking the worst will happen and expecting disasters. When we internalize this thinking style, we worry about everything and are filled with ‘what ifs.’ When we see it happening in the media, then we start to believe that not trusting in being in a constant state of hyper arousal is normal and desirable.
Another popular one is personalization. This is the tendency to relate everything around us to ourselves. We start to believe that everything that people do and say is some kind of reaction to us. We are also comparing ourselves to others to see who is smarter, prettier, etc. Social media has really helped to promote this one.
We can work to change distorted thinking in ourselves when we recognize it, but how do we change distorted thinking in the media and culture? What do we do to protect children from thinking that distorted thinking is normal?
We all can strive to think with clarity, focus and depth. Making good decisions, balancing choices, thinking in creative and diverse ways is challenging. We have to start with having a good solid practice for our minds to develop healthful thinking patterns that support us in expanding, not becoming more neurotic and confused. It is difficult when society supports and promotes distorted thinking. We can start by accepting that life is complex, full of anguish and joy and knowing that it cannot be reduced to a simplistic formula. We need to stay present and awake to observe our own minds and be consciously aware of when and how we fall into distorted thinking.
For more on Distorted Thinking go to Mark Brady’s great blog The Committed Parent: http://www.committedparent.com/Distortion.html
Identify which ones you are drawn to so you can recognize them. Be gentle with yourself and notice when you are thinking in that particular style. Gently challenge the thoughts and ask yourself if this way of thinking is really realistic? Byron Katie’s four questions is a brilliant method for helping us transform distorted thinking. Look here for her website: http://www.thework.com/index.php