“I'm so upset,” my client Myra exclaimed the other day. “I've been doing this whole dating app thing for almost five months now. Finally, I met a guy I actually liked: Paul. I mean, he has just about everything I'm looking for! But now it’s been four days since our last date, and I haven’t heard from him. What did I do wrong? How is this possible? He must not like me. Why do none of the guys I like, like me back? I am never going to find my 'one'!"
Those of you on the dating scene can probably relate to this all-too-common thought train. Even if you're not currently dating, there are probably areas of your life where your anxieties run away with you. Is it your ability to get in shape? To find a career you love?
Here's the wacky thing about us humans: We take a simple event, like a potential mate not calling us for four days, and spin it around and around in our minds until it becomes a calamity. We assign meaning to something that, by itself, may not mean anything. The only thing we know for sure is that Myra’s date didn’t call. The rest is pure imagination. And we suffer. Tremendously.
There is a term for this type of imagination proposed by psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Beck and popularized by Dr. David Burns in 1980. The term is cognitive distortion. Understanding how you cognitively distort is key to breaking free of some of your most toxic mental traps.
By seeing these thoughts as distortions rather than reality, you can actually free yourself from them. It’s like how, as a kid, you realized that there really wasn’t a monster in the corner. It was just a shadow thrown by a doll on a pile of books. Once you realized what was causing the specter, you could rest peacefully.
Think about an unhappy moment in your life this past week. Got it? Now take a look at some of the most common distortions I see in my clients, and see if you can identify the one that affected you in the rough moment you had this past week.