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CTWYF Step 2: Spotting negative thoughts that are not even true!

Cognitive Distortions First

Before we begin this tip, there is a bit of explaining to do.  Shrub loves to shorten things.  Instead of writing “Change The Way You Feel” in the tip title, Shrub likes CTWYF.

In the previous Brain tip, we talked about how important it is to write down our thoughts and feelings.  This is Step 1 in changing the way we feel.  change-way-feel-1

Now for Step 2!  This next step is to take a look at what we have written down.  We want to look particularly closely at our negative thoughts.

There are two reasons that we want to look at our thoughts:

Reason 1:  Many of our negative thoughts are not actually true!

Reason 2:  Our negative thoughts often make us feel bad.
And if these negative thoughts are not even true, then we feel bad for no reason!

Dr. Burns, the marvelous human who figured out the steps to changing how we feel, has explained that there are 10 very common types of negative thoughts.  Humans and elves need to carefully check their journals for thoughts of these sneaky kinds!

Dr. Burns calls these negative thoughts Cognitive Distortions or Cons of the Mind!  Let us have a good look.


1 All or Nothing Thinking:  Either we are good elves or we are bad elves.  Either something is perfect and wonderful or it is horrible and the worst.  We give ourselves only two ways of seeing ourselves and the world.  But this is not true!  Almost everything is somewhere in the middle.  So, check your journal for thoughts that sound very extreme.  They might be All or Nothing Thinking (also called Black and White Thinking).


2 Overgeneralization:  Let’s say we take one lick of an ice cream cone, and the scoop of ice cream splats on the ground.  We so often immediately say and think to ourselves, “This always happens to me!”  We immediately think we have dropped every ice cream since we were knee high to a grasshopper, and we think we will drop every ice cream until we are 100 years old!  This kind of thought makes life feels hopeless!  And then we begin to feel bad.  But is this thought actually true?  Have we ever enjoyed an ice cream that did not end up falling on the ground?  Yes, we have!  So we search our journals very carefully for this kind of thought.


3 Mental Filter:  Look at this blissful day above.  The rainbow is bright, the castle is happy looking, the flowers are blooming and the chirping birds fly overhead!  Oh yes, there is one little dark and thorny weed—and that is what we sometimes focus on.  Sometimes we filter out everything around us that is pleasant and we concentrate intently on the one bad thing that we don’t like.  Be absolutely sure to check your journal for thoughts of this kind, thoughts that make us feel like everything is dark and thorny, when that is not at all true!


4 Discounting the Positive:  This is a very costly type of negative thought, because it takes so much joy and pleasure out of life.  If someone gives us a compliment or an award, if someone says they care about us, we think, “No, they don’t, they are just being nice.  I don’t really deserve this.”  Please, check and double-check your journals for this kind of thought.  There are, of course, unpleasant things that happen to each of us.  But the nice and enjoyable things in life make the bad things seem more tolerable!  Thoughts that Discount the Positive cause there to be less good to balance out the bad, because we throw away the good things by not believing in them.


5 Jumping to Conclusions:  Our thoughts can Jump to Conclusions in two different ways.  We assume that we know what will happen in the future and we assume that we know what other people are thinking.  Let us take a closer look at this cognitive distortion with two heads!

Fortune telling:  This kind of thinking is when we feel we have a magical crystal ball.  However, this crystal ball only forecasts bad news.  It will rain on the picnic, I am going to fall out of this boat, no one will ever like me, I will never become a good writer elf, the thing that I feel sad about will never, ever, ever get better!

Mind-reading:  This is when we assume that we know what someone else is thinking—and we usually assume they are not thinking good things about us!  Let me offer a personal example.  Let’s say my best friend Appleblossom gets onto the wilderwagon and walks right past me, even though there is an open seat next to me!  She sits somewhere else and doesn’t seem to know I am there.  I immediately think, “My best friend of 50 years hates me!”  But, what if Appleblossom has a headache and is not noticing much because of the pain?  What if she has a very big story she is working on, and her mind is so distracted, she does not see me in the seat as she passes by?  I cannot know what another elf is thinking, or why she does what she does, and yet I might even begin to feel mad at her because of my own mind-reading thoughts!  It is the negative and untrue thoughts that are the culprits here, not my dear friend Appleblossom!

Search through your journal for thoughts where you have assumed you know what someone else is feeling or thinking (mind-reading) and thoughts where you have assumed something will go wrong and be unpleasant (fortune telling).  In both cases, we are merely Jumping to Conclusions!


It is extraordinary to see how many kinds of untrue thoughts we have on a daily basis!  And there are five more Cognitive Distortions that we will share in the next tip.

Remember, negative thoughts seem to come to us all very automatically.  We do not want them, but there they are!  Yet, if we write these thoughts down, and if we closely examine them, we are on the road to getting rid of them!

As Crowbelia the elf elder says, “Don’t believe everything you think!”


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