Whether you are an elite-level athlete or just an everyday person, how you think will ultimately determine the level of happiness and success you experience in life. Cognitive psychologists focus on helping people with their irrational, distorted, and faulty ways of thinking, and then try and teach them how to think in healthier, more objective ways. Interestingly, it is not just people with “mental illness” who engage in these ways of thinking, as we all experience cognitive distortions when we allow our emotions to trump logic when appraising situations. Want better mental toughness? Then make sure to learn about the following cognitive distortions that prevent us from achieving better mental toughness:
- Overgeneralization – Using an isolated situation and broadly assuming all others are the same way. Some sports parents have a bad experience with one coach, then jump to the conclusion that “all coaches play politics.”
- All or nothing thinking – Also known as dichotomous thinking, this is when you think only in black or white ways (no grey area). In this example a person might look at healthy living as either “you’re eating and exercising right or you’re not,” when in fact any positive lifestyle changes should be embraced!
- Emotional reasoning – This is when your emotions, and not the facts, distort your ways of thinking. This often happens when we are negatively impacted by situations, like when a youngster is cut from a sports team and thinks he’ll never be good at that sport.
- “Should” statements – This is when you think in ways of how you think the world “should” be, rather than how it is. For example, while it would be nice that every person we meet is nice to us (we might even think people should be nice), we know that this is simply not reality.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the types of cognitive distortions described above, it is important to guard against them as much as possible. When we think in unhealthy ways, it causes us more stress, which often leaves us open for a variety of poor and unhealthy coping (i.e. drinking, risky behaviors, and drug usage are examples). On the other hand, when we work to think in logical and rational ways, our overall mood state improves, our expectations of others becomes more realistic, and our need to cope with stress decreases.
While it’s not always easy to minimize cognitive distortions, it is very much worth it as it helps galvanize our mental toughness. To learn more about healthy living, achieving happiness, better health, and peak productivity check out Optimal Balance, my life success theory based on studying successful people. Happiness, success, and peak productivity can absolutely be learned, and people can make massive positive changes in relatively short periods of time. The key to all of this is rational thinking, and building smart future plans based on realistic expectations and life goals.
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