How you can change your faulty thinking

How changing your faulty thinking can improve your life

I think we all have bits of us that we’d like to change, yes? Well, today, we’re going to learn how you can do that when you change your faulty thinking (Cognitive restructuring).

Although it might appear extremely difficult to change our current ways of thinking, it’s actually comparable to most other skills. It’s hard when we first start, but with practice, we’ll find it gets easier to challenge our negative beliefs and thoughts.

Our brains are an amazingly powerful tool that allow us to see, learn, process, remember, understand and create language. Ordinarily, it’s a good thing, because our brain alerts us to risks or threats and finds answers to our dilemas.

But there are also times when the human brain fails us, we second guess what it’s telling us, like “Hmmm, why did Janice just walk past? I must have done something to upset her! She must hate me.” Seems like your brain is purposely telling you lies? Nope, it’s just that it might’ve developed some unhelpful or faulty thinking over time. Janice just didn’t see you, she was in a world of her own. She wasn’t ignoring you or she doesn’t hate you.

So, what is this faulty thinking?

Cognitive distortions are a core part of CBT
Cognitive distortions are a core part of CBT — Image by Pixabay

Quite simply, faulty thinking is a pattern of thinking that is self-defeating. An example might be “I failed English, so I must be really stupid! It happens when the things you are thinking do not match up with reality. Like in the above event, you passed the other 8 O’levels, so you can’t be stupid.

This is also referred to as Cognitive Distortions, and those who commit such thinking errors don’t always realise they’re doing so. Therefore, they’re unable to change their faulty thinking, which could improve their relationships and life in general.

In 10 thinking errors of depression that could be ruining your life, we looked at Cognitive Distortions. If you haven’t already read it, I suggest you do. By doing so, you’ll gain a much better understanding of the various Cognitive Distortions that many of us have. These are exaggerated or irrational thoughts that cause us to perceive reality inaccurately.

An example might be Jumping to Conclusions: You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Your partner’s late coming in from work and you think, “Oh no. He must have had an accident,” or “He must be cheating on me.” But you have no physical evidence.

If this is you, perhaps you want to change your faulty thinking, but you don’t know how, and you wonder………….

What is cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring, a core part of Cognitive Therapy, is basically working with thoughts that aren’t working for you. Cognitive restructuring:

  • is useful for understanding what lies behind negative moods. These may undermine our performance, or damage our relationships with other people
  • can help people identify, challenge and change stress-inducing thought patterns and beliefs
  • helps us to identify overly-negative habits of thinking which lead to overly-negative mood states
  • is a technique that’s been successfully used to help people change the way they think
  • according to Mindtools.com it’s a useful technique for understanding unhappy feelings and moods, and for challenging the sometimes-wrong “automatic beliefs” that often lie behind them. Cognitive restructuring helps you to change the negative or distorted thinking that often lies behind these moods according to Mindtools.com.

So, we identify the ineffective patterns of thinking and change them to be more effective. More effective might mean triggering a less negative emotion, enabling more helpful behavior, or seeing things more clearly.

This isn’t about changing negative thoughts and beliefs into happy clappy constant happiness and positivity. Truly, extremely positive thinking can be just as ineffective as extremely negative thinking.

Thoughts of being certain that your interview won’t go well can actually cause it to go badly. But just assuming it’ll go well, no matter what (happy clappy positivity), might cause you to be less concerned about it — also resulting in your interview going badly.

So, now for some examples of cognitive structuring

Changing faulty thinking can improve our relationships and life in general — Image by Pngtree

Lets use stress management, for example. The goal is to replace stress-producing thoughts (cognitive distortions) with more balanced thoughts that do not produce stress.

  1. We need to identify a situation that leads to stress and the thoughts and feelings that arise in that situation. Presentations at university always induced anxiety and stress for me. My thoughts were about being a failure, stuttering throughout, peers seeing me shake with nerves and they’d think I was stupid.
  2. Then we challenge the thoughts by determining what is true about them and what is not true about them. I wrote down every negative thought I had about presentations in the left hand column and was able to challenge each of them in turn. Say ‘being a failure’, I looked at the evidence, where I’d always received really positive feedback from my peers after each presentation. My tutor also gave me terrific grades for my presentations. People told me I was good at presenting in my previous jobs. So, it was fair to say that I wouldn’t be seen as a failure now, even if I did fluff my lines once or twice.
  3. Finally, you develop an alternative and more balanced thought and determine how you will feel when you adopt this new way of thinking. I wrote down more balanced thoughts in the right-hand column, like “I’ve done many presentations before, and they all went well,” or “I’ve never failed a presentation before, so why would I do it now?” I determined that future presentations would go well and I’ll feel proud afterwards.

Example 2

Adapted from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Los Angeles

Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative moodI made a suggestion at the weekly team meeting and everyone there disagreed with my idea.

I thought “My idea is sound.”
Write down what thoughts occured in the situationI don’t have any good ideas. I am terrible at my job. My colleagues think I’m thick.
FeelingsAnxious. stressed, disrespected, ignored and stupid.
Evidence that supports the thoughtSome colleagues suggested that we don’t have enough money or resources to implement my idea.
Evidence that doesn’t support the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)Mine wasn’t the only idea that my colleagues disagreed with. A few people did think it was a good idea. I’ve previously been complimented on my ability to think on my feet. I mostly do a good job. Colleagues frequently tell me they like the way I work.
Alternative/balanced thoughtColleagues have told me they think that I’m capable and often have good ideas. I regularly do a good job. Okay, that wasn’t one of my best ideas.
Observe your mood now, and decide on your next stepsI feel calmer. I no longer feel stressed about this.

I will continue to practice cognitive restructuring.
You can substitute your own thoughts or ideas

Example 3

Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative moodSome friends went out for drinks last week and they didn’t invite me.
Write down what thoughts occurThey don’t like me. They think I am boring. They don’t care about me anymore. I’ll end up with no friends soon.
Write down what you are feelingsUpset, sad, angry, unloved, and alone.
Evidence that supports the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)I do get moody sometimes.
Evidence that doesn’t support the thoughtFriends have told me many times that I’m fun to be around and that I make them laugh. I’m generally invited to most things. Other friends haven’t been invited to all the other activities.
Alternative/balanced thoughtMy friends do like me but that doesn’t mean that they have to invite me to everything.
Observe your mood now, and decide on your next stepsI feel less angry, happier and not angry. I’m no longer stressed about this.

I will continue to practice cognitive restructuring.
You can substitute your own thoughts
Challenge you faulty thinking
Challenge you faulty thinking — Image from Pngtree

Even if you don’t struggle with depression, or any other serious mental health issue, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate your own thoughts sometimes. The sooner you catch a cognitive distortion and start to challenge it, the less likely it is to impact negatively on your life.

Remember though, that if you want to change your faulty thinking, you must practice and keep practising. By doing this you’ll notice how you’ve changed, you’ll be less stressed, your relationships will improve, as will your life in general.

Over to you

What’s your experience with cognitive distortions? Which ones do you struggle with? Have you noticed any ANTs recently and what did you do about them? Maybe you’ve learnt about Cognitive restructuring during Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and you’ve used it effectively (or not)? I’d love to hear about your experiences and I’m happy to answer any questions.

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

22 thoughts on “How you can change your faulty thinking”

  1. I’m so glad my therapist taught me this years ago. i also had two really good managers at work that reinforced hoiw distructive this thinking was. It was a great lesson in life. Not that our brain doesn’t ever go back to that thinking but after you train it to think rationally then you can catch yourself when you do thingk that way. Good post.

    1. That’s great that you had the two managers who’d reinforce your new thinking.

      Yes, it’s great to learn, and I did train my brain lol. I agree that your brain can forget all that learning sometimes.

  2. I appreciate this type of article, but am not sure that this will work with schizophrenia. I hav tried some of the exercises, and I have so much crap in my head. Intrusive thoughts follow me wherever I go…

    1. Thank you Mio, and I understand it, not all things help every different day 🙂

      And for some people or patients with a severe and enduring health disorder, they can and do have techniques Some found that certain things, like art, using the gym, or walking ile 🙂 distracted them from their voices for a while.

      May you want to look up strategies that help schizophrenia.

      Oh Mio, I know how hard you work on yourself, what with having those voices – I truly don’t. And what with the constant words.

      1. Thanks Caz. I hope aid isn’t come off as combative. I’m simply stating that I know of these types of techniques, and that schizophrenia is powerful. Especially when there’s voices involved. Everyone has a different trajectory, so what helps one may help not another and vice versa! 🙂

      1. I meant to end with “What with the constant voices, it must feel like hell for you.”

        Heck I’ve re-read my whole comment and it doesn’t make sense at all lol. Must be me literally hallucinating with a high fever yesterday.

        I get you Mio and your right, different horses for different courses. I don’t even know if I’ve got the sentence the right way round lol. Just ignore me for a few days lol x

  3. Writing down the evidence for or against the interpretations of cognitive distortions seems like a great idea. It’s harder to argue away items that are physically listed in front of you as opposed to just combating one idea at a time mentally.

  4. Thank you for this article. For me, this is a constant battle. Lately, I’ve had to fight to think positive and to keep the negative and self-defeating thoughts away because my husband is a negative thinker and I’m forever giving him pep talks. But lately, it’s rubbing off on me and I can’t have that. This is such a great article!

    1. I’m really happy to hear you find it useful Cherie. I too have a hubby who constantly reads out or asks me to listen to all the negativity going on in the world! Aaarrgghhh! Even as I sit here typing!

      Sometimes, I start to get tetchy and want to scream at him, but I just say sweetly “Is there anything positive in the news?” or “What good things have happened to you today? Then I tell him to put his headphones on. In fact I’ve just done that lol. It’s horrible how it impacts on us, eh?

      On different days, I’ll say (sweetly) “How would you feel if I added more negativity to your day, every day?”

      As an aside Cherie, I have to log in and use my password to comment on your posts, but I’m always forgetting my password. Is there another way? Cos I love all your content about bullying. ❤️ Don’t think I’m not reading it.

      1. Oh, I know you are. I have to use a password myself to log into WordPress so I just don’t sign out everytime. It makes things must easier. Thank you so much for reading. You don’t know what this means.

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