What is Cognitive Distortion?
And this idea is deeply rooted in neuroscience: these cognitive distortions become reinforced over time through the same concept of neuroplasticity that we’ve been drawing on throughout this program. Recall our forest metaphor; the first time our brain rolls around a new idea (say, “I’m worthless”), it feels clunky. Our brains are skeptical, unsure, and the response time for confirmation of this idea is slow. The forest path is obstructed and difficult to navigate. The second time our minds visit this thought, the neural pathways associated with it begin to form a little more concretely. The path begins to clear and it becomes easier to navigate. The 100th time our brain thinks a thought, the neural pathways have been so fortified that the thought is our reality. The path is well worn.
Before you panic and decide you can never trust another thought again, there’s good news: we can develop critical thinking and resilience against cognitive distortions. While it probably doesn’t serve us to operate with skepticism at every passing thought, we can begin to explore some of the “stickier” thoughts with open curiosity. We’ll explore this Dialectical Behavioral Therapy tool in greater depth in a few weeks, but one way we can combat these cognitive distortions is by utilizing DIBs, or “disputing irrational beliefs.”
To give DIBs a test-drive, give the following questions some thought the next time you find yourself with a really strong thought, belief, or perception that might not be based in reality:
“Is there any evidence that my belief is true?” (Repeat as often as is necessary)
“What bad can happen to me if I keep that belief?”
“What good can happen to me if I keep my belief?”
As we’ll explore later, these sorts of questions help us get out of “feeling” and into reality. The more we practice exploring our current beliefs with curiosity and nonjudgement, the more attuned to reality (and resilient against cognitive distortions) we become.
3 Ways to Dispute Irrational Beliefs. SMART Recovery. (2018, March 2). https://www.smartrecovery.org/are-you-a-loser/.
Ackerman, C. E. (2020, October 31). Cognitive Distortions: When Your Brain Lies to You (+ PDF Worksheets). PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/cognitive-distortions/.