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

Cognitive Distortions First

Shrub loves to shorten things.  Instead of writing “Change The Way You Feel” in the tip title, Shrub preferred CTWYF.

Now, 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

On to Step 2!  This next step is to take a close look at what we have written down, especially our negative thoughts.

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

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

2:  A negative thought often makes us feel bad.
(And if the negative thought is not even true, then we feel bad for no reason!)

Dr. Burns, the human who figured out these steps to changing how we feel, has explained that there are 10 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.  That is, 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 look at the past and tell ourselves this has happened to every ice cream, and we look into the future and think it will happen forever more!  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!  We just need to notice when we are overgeneralizing—and check our journals for this kind of thought.


3 Mental Filter:  Look at this blissful day above.  A rainbow is shining, the castle is welcoming, the flowers are blooming and joyful birds fly overhead!  Oh yes, and 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 thing that we don’t like.  Be absolutely sure to check your journal for thoughts of this kind!  Usually, there are many more things to be grateful and happy about than we first think.


4 Discounting the Positive:  This is a very costly type of negative thought, because it turns our accomplishments and good qualities to dust.  If someone gives us a compliment (see below) or an award (see above), or if someone says that they like us, we often think, “No, they don’t, they are just being nice.  I don’t really deserve this.”  Please, check, double-check and even triple-check your journals for this kind of thought!  It is so often not at all true!



5 Jumping to Conclusions:  We do this 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 wily sort of cognitive distortion with two heads!

    Fortune telling:  Not only do we think we have a crystal ball to see the future, our magical crystal ball only forecasts bad news.  It will rain on the picnic, 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 think and are sure 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 that 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 me 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 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 all have on a daily basis!  And there are five more Cognitive Distortions that we will illustrate in the next Brain tip.

Remember, negative thoughts 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 always says, “Don’t believe everything you think!”


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