Don’t Let Your Thoughts Cause You Stress

Sometimes, in the competitive world of sports, an athlete may use “mind games” to intimidate or affect the thinking of their opponents.  You may be playing “mind games” with yourself preventing you from adopting healthy behavior changes.  Don’t let your thoughts cause you stress.

10 Cognitive Irrational Distortions

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Listed below are 10 cognitive irrational distortions which can lead to anxiety depression or anger (Burns, 1980):

  • All or nothing thinking:  Looking at things in black-and-white categories
  • Overgeneralization:  Whenever a negative event happens, one sees it as a never-ending pattern of defeat
  • Mental filter:  Ignoring the positives and dwelling on the negatives
  • Discounting the positives:  Insisting that positive qualities or accomplishments “don’t count”
  • Jumping to conclusions:  Performing “mind reading” where you assume that people are reacting negatively when there is no evidence to prove this.  Also performing “fortune telling” where you always predict that things will turn out badly.
  • Magnification/Minimization:  Taking things out of proportion or lessening their importance
  • Emotional reasoning:  Taking your feelings and rationalizing them:  “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one” or “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll put it off.”
  • “Should” or catastrophic statements:  Criticizing oneself and others with “should,” “shouldn’t,” “must,” “ought” and “have to.”
  • Labeling:  Instead of just saying “I made a mistake” and learning from the experience, you identify with your shortcoming.  From this, you tell yourself that you’re a “jerk,” “fool,” or “a loser.”
  • Personalization and blame:  Blaming yourself for something you were not responsible for.  Blaming others while ignoring the fact that your own attitudes and behavior might be contributing to the problem.

A change in your thinking needs to occur before behavioral changes can take place.  Replace your irrational thoughts with motivating thoughts (Burns, 1980):

  • Examine the evidence:  Ask yourself:  “What are the facts without emotions getting involved?”
  • Experimental technique:  Create an experiment for yourself where you test the validity of your irrational thought.  As yourself:  “How can I test this thought to find out if it’s really valid?”
  • Socratic method:  For example, ask yourself:  “When I say that I’m a failure, do I mean that I fail at some things sometimes or all things always?”  If you say that you fail at all things always this is not true as no one fails at everything.

A good place to start is when you wake up in the morning.  As soon as you open your eyes you may say to yourself, “Today will be the worst day ever.”

Really?  Why?

What exactly will make this day the worst day ever?  Is what you’re worried about a realistic outcome of the day?

A better way to emerge from sleep is to say to yourself:  “Today will be a great day.  I will defeat any challenges today and will learn from any experiences.”

Become aware of how you are generating cognitive distortions for yourself and have a plan in place to practice more positive thinking.


Burns, D.  (1980).  Feeling Good:  The New Mood Therapy.  New York:  William Morrow.

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