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Cognitive Distortions: Types, Examples, & Exercises

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Ever found yourself caught in a mental web where your thoughts seem to twist reality into strange shapes, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or stuck? You’re not alone. Welcome to the intriguing world of cognitive distortions, those sneaky mental habits that can turn everyday thinking into a rollercoaster of extreme emotions. Think of them as the illusions of the mind, the distorted glasses we sometimes don without even realizing it. In this blog, we’re going to journey through these mind-bending phenomena, unpacking their types, diving into real-life examples, and equipping you with practical exercises to help you untangle the web of distorted thinking.

What Are Cognitive Distortions, Anyway?

Imagine you have a pair of glasses on, but these glasses don’t show the world as it is; they distort reality. Cognitive distortions are like those glasses for your mind. They’re automatic and exaggerated thoughts that lead to irrational beliefs and, ultimately, negative emotions. Here are some common cognitive distortion examples:

All-or-Nothing Thinking (Black and White Thinking)

Imagine viewing life through a lens that only recognizes two extremes: perfection or failure. This is what all-or-nothing thinking, often referred to as black and white thinking, is all about. It’s the tendency to see situations in terms of absolute success or absolute failure, with no middle ground. This cognitive distortion often leaves people feeling trapped in a relentless pursuit of perfection. If they don’t achieve something flawlessly, they might label themselves as complete failures. 

Example: If someone is trying to lose weight and has a single slice of pizza, they might think, “Well, I’ve blown my diet completely. I might as well eat the whole pizza now.”

Exercise: Challenge yourself to find at least three shades of gray in any situation. Life is rarely just black or white.


Overgeneralization involves taking one negative event or experience and applying it as a broad, sweeping belief about oneself or the world. It’s like making one mistake and concluding that you’re destined to fail at everything. Overgeneralization can severely limit personal growth and lead to a lack of self-esteem. 

Example: If someone fails an exam, they might think, “I’m terrible at academics, and I’ll never succeed in life.” This distortion often ignores the fact that everyone experiences setbacks and that they don’t define our entire existence.

Exercise: Collect evidence to prove your overgeneralization wrong. Counter each negative thought with a specific counterexample.


Catastrophizing is when you magnify or exaggerate the potential consequences of a situation. It’s as if your mind has a habit of turning molehills into mountains. This distortion can lead to excessive worry and anxiety. Practice asking yourself the realisticness of each outcome in a bad situation as a cognitive distortion exercise when you find yourself catastrophizing.

Example: if someone has a minor disagreement with a friend, they might start thinking, “Our friendship is over, and I’ll end up alone and miserable.” Catastrophizing makes people anticipate the worst possible outcome, which rarely materializes.

Exercise: Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can realistically happen?” Often, it’s not as dire as your mind imagines.

Mind Reading

One of the cognitive distortion types is mind reading, and it’s based on harmful assumptions we make by ourselves about situations without using evidence.Mind reading involves assuming that you know what others are thinking or feeling, often jumping to negative conclusions without any concrete evidence. This distortion can strain relationships and lead to unnecessary conflicts. 

Example: If a friend doesn’t respond to your message promptly, you might think, “They must be angry with me.” In reality, there could be countless reasons for the delay, none of which necessarily involve anger.

Exercise: The next time you catch yourself mind reading, ask the person directly. You’ll often be surprised by the reality.

Discounting the Positive

Discounting the positive is the tendency to downplay or dismiss positive experiences, feedback, or qualities. It’s like having a mental filter that screens out anything good. This cognitive distortion can contribute to low self-esteem and a persistent feeling of dissatisfaction. Here are some cognitive distortion examples of discounting the positive:

Example: If someone receives praise for their work, they might think, “They’re just being polite; it wasn’t that great.” By discounting the positive, people rob themselves of the opportunity to acknowledge their accomplishments and feel good about them.

Exercise: Keep a journal of positive feedback and revisit it when you’re feeling down. It’s a tangible reminder of your worth.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning occurs when you believe that your feelings accurately reflect reality, even when there’s no factual basis for your emotions. This distortion can lead to impulsive decisions and distorted perceptions.Here are some cognitive distortion examples where emotional reasoning is used:

Example: If someone feels anxious about attending a social event, they might conclude, “I must be in danger, so I won’t go.” This distortion doesn’t consider that feelings are not always rational indicators of reality and can often be influenced by past experiences or personal biases.

Exercise: Challenge your emotions with facts. Ask yourself, “What evidence supports or contradicts this feeling?”

Engaging in distorted thinking patterns? Get help from a CBT therapist in NYC today!

Recognizing cognitive distortions is a vital step in understanding and managing one’s thought patterns. It’s important to note that each individual’s cognitive distortions may vary, and they can sometimes be intertwined with other mental health issues or concerns. At Uncover Mental Health Counseling, we offer cognitive behavioral therapy and have CBT therapists in NYC experienced in identifying and addressing cognitive distortions. To start on your journey of self-awareness and mental well-being, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Reach out to Uncover Mental Health Counseling to schedule a complimentary consultation call.
  2. Connect with one of our experienced CBT therapists in NYC specializing in cognitive distortions for an initial assessment session.
  3. Begin receiving the necessary support and guidance to challenge and reframe cognitive distortions, allowing for healthier thought patterns and improved mental health.

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