I just had to share this story with everyone I can as soon as I saw it. I’m 1000 miles away but I can still pass on the light that my talented and bright siblings bring to the world.
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 despair.com. 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.
“You always do what you want to do.” (W.C. Stone)
Perhaps if I approached my negative, pessimistic tendencies as I would a substance addiction, I would have more success recognizing and beating them.
What does an alcoholic do to beat their condition? There are different step schemes, but they follow a general progression. First admit the problem, second get the help you need, third you need to know that it is a disease in which the only hope you have to beat it is to abstain from it completely, fourth quit and don’t look back. This last step is probably where I fall short and end up back at one. Why is that? That’s the worst place to stop.
Matthew Kelly said when you get to a critical choice and it is difficult to decide what action to take, decide based on this question: “Which one will make a better me?” At a crossroads, this makes it much easier to decide which way is right. From there it takes courage to follow that way. I think acting on this is key to recovering from pessimism—I will be forced to see that I have more control, more time, more choice, and more willpower than I thought possible.
Even depression can be turned into energy to make the situation better. W.C. Stone said that the Depression era in America did not hinder his productivity but rather increased it, and expanded his business because his team was inspired to action out of necessity rather than just willpower or other rewards. I have a fear that if I really was in the greatest state of necessity, I would fold. Got to shake that off! I also have a competing hunch that in that state of necessity, I’d be there in the clutch.
Maybe Patton’s treatment for shell-shock and courage under fire is applicable to many situations like this: “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment ago was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.” The right passion meets the right fear and ignites action.
I suppose I won’t have war stories if I don’t push my way to the front lines.