Monthly Archives: September 2012

Distortion 4: Disqualifying the Positive

[Continuing my series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking.]

Disqualifying the positive can be summed up thusly: continually deemphasizing or shooting down positive experiences for ad hoc reasons. Ad hoc is one of my favorite phrases because it is amazing how easily humans are tripped up by what might be, may be, or could be, with absolutely no bearing on what is true or even probable.

In other words, when something good happens–especially if someone points it out publicly–I can mentally distort that event to be a fluke, coincidence, accident, or even a mistake, thereby allowing myself to continue to be negative. If I don’t want to do something, or don’t believe that something will work, I can shoot it down with a quickness by simply responding with a “well that’s just because…”

This is generally how it happens: someone says, “Hey! That was pretty awesome, huh?!”, and then I say something like:

–Oh, he’s just trying to be nice.

–Oh, she’s just having a good day.

–Oh, he just wants to look good in front of ______.

–Just a lucky guess.

–Someone up there must like me. [Even if One does like me, this is usually just special pleading implying that my good event was undeserved or unearned. And it doesn’t even imply gratitude on my part!]

–Meh, the planets must be aligned right.

–It’s probably to cushion the blow for some letdown later.

–That’s nothing special. It happens to most everybody.

Or maybe I can take an even more negative route:

–Whatever; I won’t get my hopes up.

–It’s going to fall apart / backfire / breakdown later / get forgotten / go unnoticed anyways.

It’s almost a direct contradiction of myself. “Hey cool! No it’s not.” It doesn’t even matter if my response has any grounds. The awesomeness of event A cannot be negated by whatever may happens after A, even if the state of affairs after A sucks.

Eeyore has probably been the most iconic naysayer to me. He brings the negative around with him and dumps it on whatever unsuspecting happy person he happens to be near at the moment.

Does the fact that my parent(s) used to call me “Eeyore” when I was talking like him reinforce the negativism? I don’t know. But what does it really matter?

I think Debbie Downer is a far better smelling salt, because she’s so awful she’s hilarious, and no one wants to be like her. “I’m flirtin’ with a melanoma.” Waa-waaaaw…

Just like choosing to consciously say “thanks” whenever someone gives a compliment no matter how much I agree or like it, I need to just follow a good experience with “that was great!” Maybe it will attract more of them.

At Dave Matthews in Irvine–as I tap!

Wife and I are at the Dave Matthews Band show (waaaaahh!!!!) in Irvine right now with my cousin and her boo.

You know the hip, 20-30-something girls that perpetually dance at shows like this, looking like wisps of smoke from a newly lit incense stick? We happen to be sitting in their section…I guess. That’s cool though because they set the mood. Eventually everyone will join, and the crowd becomes a glistening mass of groove. I love that part. 🙂

I would put a pic or two but I think the network is sighing under the strain right now, so—more to come!

[Next day]

A big “Two Step” finale!


Don’t judge me!…Officer!

Recently an acquaintance of mine completely shocked me with brazen illogical rudeness. He dropped himself into a marginalized category of people: pretentious, arrogant, selfish, crooked, and calloused as sociopaths and politicians.

I’m talking about handicap parking impostors.

What’s more is that he’s a community service worker, and someone who not only knows the law better than the average person. But he was having a bad day and nothing was going right. So to make himself feel better (presumably) he took the spot from handicapped people, and then declared:

Yes, I parked in the handicap spot. DON’T JUDGE ME.

I couldn’t believe it.


Distortion 3: Mental filtering

[Continuing my series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking.]

When our minds mediate the events we experience, ideally we get a good balance of the positive and negative aspects–the truth, essentially. But often we filter things out so that we can hone our attention in on only some aspects, and usually these are negative.

If we are depressed, our filter is clogged so that the positives don’t even get through. I don’t know about you but one person comes to my mind as a master “filterer” like this:


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Distortion 2: Overgeneralization

I’m beginning a series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking. Hopefully it will help someone else realize they are doing it too to their detriment.

◊ Overgeneralizing takes isolated cases or truths and makes wide, sweeping assertions about many more cases–or even all cases. Generalizing is another type of heuristic that helps us to grasp and categorize things. Inducing what will happen next based on what you’ve experienced is obviously an important skill. It’s generally safe to believe, for example, that since you nearly burned your eyebrows off the last time you left the gas on too long before you lit the grill, it will probably happen again if you wait just as long…and the same goes for any gas grill you dare to light.

◊ Obviously, this is a valuable cognitive skill. Even animals do it. But it takes a turn for the nasty when it is used to protect us from what we don’t know or understand. I’m talking about discrimination and prejudice that is irrational, bitterness, and pessimism. Combined with the fact that our brains are wired to hold onto negative events and losses more tightly than positive ones, this all becomes very natural. Murphy probably only had to drop his buttered toast a couple of times before he discovered “a law.”

◊ I have laughed until I nearly cried at things like Their success is based on overgeneralization of stuff we’d rather not experience or witness. But I laugh like a sad clown–nobody in their right mind finds these really putting smiles of joy on their faces. The smiles demotivators invoke are smiles along the lines of “as long as it doesn’t happen to me..this time.”

I’ve learned that even though this distortion is easy to adopt in order to feel smarter and that I somehow won’t be duped by anyone, it makes me really annoying to people who catch onto me. It makes me a Debbie Downer, who focuses on what will probably go wrong. But worst of all, opportunities go flying by me because I see them coming for a fleeting moment and go, “Meh, wouldn’t work anyway.” Better to keep the cognitive skill as a way to be prepared and remember that each new opportunity is in fact new.

Distortion 1: All or Nothing

I’m beginning a series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking. Hopefully it will help someone else realize they are doing it too to their detriment.

◊ All-or-nothing (also called ‘splitting’) is that tendency to sort everything into absolute terms like “always,” “never,” “every time,” and an oldie but goodie “utterly,” etc. If you really try and think about it, very few aspects of human behavior are absolute. There is usually at least one time you did “that thing” differently. You grow in knowledge and ability so repeat your actions but not exactly the same way; or, you mess up 7 out of 10 times but those other 3 are magical.

Sad that Google Suggests only one thing to follow this question. And, yet again, teenagers are singled out as more stupid than other populations. Don’t buy into it! 

 ◊ I suppose it tends to follow a natural progression. Hindsight is 20×20, our brains develop and change, and these facts conspire to make us think we are over it.

◊ Why do we do this? Because it’s a heuristic that has worked before—a mental shortcut which makes it easier to move on. For example, if you are tired of a relationship with a friend that on certain occasions puts you down, you may be torn as to whether you should continue the relationship. Sometimes they make you feel good, and sometimes bad, so it’s not 100% miserable. You might even feel guilty getting rid of them for “sometimes bad” because you are disregarding the good. So you split it, all-or-nothing: “That guy is always putting me down.” Then you can sever the connection, because who’s going to fault you for someone who’s always bad to you?

To be fair, we have to take mental shortcuts to survive and to get through life. These shortcuts aren’t all bad of course, but they are easily misapplied and go unchecked. A rule of thumb easily slips into a prejudice, some kind of fear, enabling an escape from opportunity…


It wasn’t hard to realize and accept that I pull this distortion all the time…oops, I mean a lot. But once I was aware Ifound out how hard it is to stop—how pervasive it is, how rampant it is in my family. It enables my self-sabotaging “don’t bother trying” thoughts. How many times have I missed out on opportunities to do something new and add value to my world because of this language? I just discovered Joel Runyan the other day—people like that are fascinating to me because they blew the cap off of the realm of possibility long ago.