It’s been called many things: “Cognitive Distortions,” “Stinking Thinking,” “Killing the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).”  A special favorite that I heard at a conference this past year was the “Itty Bitty Sh***y Committee.”

Bottom line, it’s negative self-talk that I am speaking of, and it will ruin absolutely everything you try to do in life if it goes unchecked. 

We default to using these inaccurate thoughts to reinforce feelings of inadequacy, shameful thinking, or poor behavior.  We tell ourselves things that sound rational but really, these thoughts are false and throw us into dark places.

As athletes, the start of success starts between the ears.  If your self-talk is constantly bringing you down, no parent, coach or friend will be able to convince you otherwise.  Your internal conversation shouts the loudest.

Who struggles with distortions?

EVERYONE has had distorted thoughts go through their mind. I want to share critical knowledge and resources that build your confidence to use – not IF distorted thoughts come – but WHEN they attack.  With each and every day of practice, you’ll be able to have more nourishing thinking that will help you be successful in accomplishing more at each practice and game.

Stick with me here.

There are 16 common distorted thoughts I want to share with you.  Consider each one and think back to a time that you have experienced this in your training.

  1. Mental Filter.

We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.

Ex. You miss the free throw, going into half-time down by 1.  The team goes back out and wins the game, but you can’t even celebrate because you are criticizing and over analyzing that one lost shot.

  1. All or Nothing thinking.

Also known as black or white thinking;  this is when you cant see in shades of grey.  If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Ex. Getting 2nd place and considering yourself a total fail at the competition.

  1. Overgeneralization.

Someone may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.  Using “always and never” are common distortions.

Ex.  “I will never get this” or “We will always be the worst”

  1. Jumping to Conclusions.

You interpret a situation without knowing the facts to support your conclusion.  There are two types of this thinking fallacy:

  • Mind Reading: without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude someone is reacting negatively to you.
    • Ex. a person may conclude their coach is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if that is actually true.
  • Fortune Telling: you predict things will turn out badly.
    • Ex. “I’m really going to mess this up.”
  1. Magnifying or Minimizing.

This is skewing your own perception.  You either exaggerate or minimize the importance of a situation.  Also known as the “binocular trick.”

Ex. An athlete who messes up blames him/herself for the team loss.

  1. Personalization/Blame.

Personalization is a distortion where a someone believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction towards them. We also compare ourselves to others, trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.

Blame is holding other people responsible for our pain.

Ex.  “It’s my fault you failed” or “It’s your fault I don’t have more friends”

  1. Should statements.

Stop shoulding all over yourself. We have a list of rules about how others and ourselves “should” behave. When we impose expectations and break one of these rules; we get upset, or we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.

Ex. “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders.

  1. Emotional Reasoning.

“I feel it so it must be true.”  If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect the way things really are.

Ex. “I feel lonely so I really must be all alone”.

  1. Fallacy of Change.

We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or sweet-talk them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.

  1. Labeling.

Theses are highly emotionally loaded words.  Puts you or other people in a box to help you feel good because you “now have better understanding” but ultimately are false presumptions being put on other people.

Ex phrases like, “I’m a loser” or “They are jerks.”

  1. Disqualifying the positive.

You acknowledge positives but reject them instead of embracing them.

Ex.  “Oh it was nothing, anyone could have done that.”

  1. Control Fallacies

This can be a very black and white distortion; it doesn’t allow for the gray.  Everyone can has control over their actions but we can not control everything that happens in life.  Two examples of this:

  • 1. I am controlled by everyone else in my life, I can’t make my own decisions.
  • 2. I have complete control over my life.
  1. Fallacy of Fairness

Life actually isn’t fair.  If we look at life with the perspective of “this isn’t fair” we will become angry, lonely and bitter.

  1. Always Being Right

A belief that we must always be right or have the best idea. With this distortion, the impression that you could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable.  This will make it very difficult to have healthy relationships since ”you are right and everyone else is wrong.”

  1. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This displays itself as a belief that if you struggle, suffer and endure pain hard work will result in a just reward. This thinking is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

Distortion Challenge:

Keep a journal and write when distorted thoughts come in:

  1. Where were you and what happened
  2. What was the distorted thought you had
  3. How it made you feel

That’s it.  It is not rocket science.  But if you take the time to build an awareness of how you think, you will slowly begin to want to make changes so your thoughts, emotions and actions are where you would like them to be.

A great resource to learn more about distortions and psychotherapy: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D. Burns.

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