Cognitive distortions occur when a person only considers the cons of a scenario that’s happening to them. Young people subjected to a lot of life adversity are more prone to cognitive distortions. There are ten common cognitive distortions and thinking patterns. Continue reading to find out the checklist of cognitive distortions in detail.

List of Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that are irrational or inaccurate and can negatively affect our mood, behavior, and relationships. Here are some examples of common cognitive distortions:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: This is the tendency to see things in black-and-white terms, with no room for nuance or shades of gray. For example, thinking “I either do everything perfectly or I’m a complete failure.”
  2. Overgeneralization: This is the tendency to make sweeping conclusions based on a single event or experience. For example, thinking “I didn’t get the job I applied for, so I’m never going to get a job.”
  3. Mental filtering: This is the tendency to focus on negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive. For example, thinking “I did well on the test, but I made one mistake, so I’m a failure.”
  4. Discounting the positive: This is the tendency to minimize or dismiss positive experiences or achievements. For example, thinking “I got an A on the test, but it was just an easy test.”
  5. Jumping to conclusions: This is the tendency to assume we know what others are thinking or what will happen in the future, without evidence to support these assumptions. For example, thinking “My friend hasn’t returned my text, so she must be angry with me.”
  6. Catastrophizing: This is the tendency to imagine the worst possible outcome of a situation. For example, thinking “If I don’t get this project done perfectly, I’ll get fired and be homeless.”
  7. Personalization: This is the tendency to take things personally, even if they have nothing to do with us. For example, thinking “My boss didn’t say hello to me this morning, so he must not like me.”
  8. Emotional reasoning: This is the tendency to assume that our emotions are based on reality, even when they are not. For example, thinking “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure.”


This kind of thought pattern causes the person to perceive every circumstance unfavorably. They will extrapolate the same unfavorable consequences to all other situations in life. For instance, William believes he is not excellent at giving speeches because he made a mistake once when orating. This is an overgeneralization, where an individual’s self-confidence and self-esteem get impacted and set just by one negative event. Such a thought will prevent any person from realizing their true potential.

What causes Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are often caused by automatic, habitual patterns of thinking that develop over time, often as a result of early life experiences or learned behaviors. Some common causes of cognitive distortions include:

  1. Negative early life experiences: Traumatic or negative experiences in childhood or adolescence, such as abuse, neglect, or bullying, can lead to the development of cognitive distortions.
  2. Learned behaviors: Cognitive distortions can be learned from others, such as parents, teachers, or peers, who model these patterns of thinking.
  3. Cognitive biases: Our brains are wired to process information in certain ways, which can lead to cognitive biases that contribute to the development of cognitive distortions.
  4. Stress and anxiety: Chronic stress or anxiety can interfere with our ability to think clearly, leading to distorted thinking patterns.
  5. Depression: Depression can also contribute to the development of cognitive distortions, as negative thoughts and beliefs about oneself and the world become more pervasive.
  6. Genetics: Some research suggests that certain genetic factors may be associated with the development of cognitive distortions.

It’s important to note that cognitive distortions are common and often automatic patterns of thinking that everyone experiences from time to time.

How to Challenge Cognitive Distortions

Challenging cognitive distortions is an important part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative patterns of thinking. Here are some strategies for challenging cognitive distortions:

  1. Identify the distortion: The first step in challenging a cognitive distortion is to identify it. Take note of your thoughts and feelings, and try to identify patterns of thinking that are negative, irrational, or inaccurate.
  2. Gather evidence: Once you’ve identified a cognitive distortion, gather evidence that supports and contradicts it. Ask yourself questions like, “Is this thought based on facts or assumptions?” or “What evidence do I have to support or contradict this thought?”
  3. Challenge the distortion: Use the evidence you’ve gathered to challenge the cognitive distortion. For example, if you’ve identified an all-or-nothing thinking pattern, you might challenge it by reminding yourself of times when things weren’t either completely good or completely bad.
  4. Consider alternative explanations: Another way to challenge cognitive distortions is to consider alternative explanations for a situation or event. Ask yourself questions like, “What other explanations are there for this situation?” or “How might someone else view this situation?”
  5. Practice self-compassion: Challenging cognitive distortions can be difficult and uncomfortable, so it’s important to practice self-compassion throughout the process. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and acknowledge that changing negative patterns of thinking takes time and effort.
  6. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and can help you challenge cognitive distortions in the moment. Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or meditation to help you stay present and focused.

Mental filtering

Only the unpleasant events in their lives are seen and given attention by people with this flawed mental pattern. For instance, Peter exclusively thinks about the negative events in his life and believes it is meaningless and that he is unlucky. Anxiety, sadness, and a sense of hopelessness will result due to this mentality. Discounting the positive is also as same as mental filtering, but in this case, people usually consider the positive events to be luck or fluke. 


Another kind of thought pattern is labeling, in which the subject gives a bad term to themselves or others. For example, declaring oneself a failure or referring to other people as drunks. This kind of thinking can cause someone to underestimate himself or others.

Checklist of cognitive distortions

  • The best cognitive distortion exercise is mindfulness. Mindfulness helps to focus on the present moment and keeps you away from the negative thoughts that give you anxiety and depression. 
  • Take a brief moment to consider the reality. Focus on the here and now while contrasting it with the unfavorable thought.
  • Think about the thought and consider why it is occurring. Put yourself in the shoes of your close friend and say anything you would say to your friend to help them overcome the negative thought.