Mindfulness and Cognitive Distortions

by Victoria Stith
May 4, 2020

What are cognitive distortions? They are thoughts that twist reality and cause suffering, and that we tend to do habitually and automatically.


  1. Personalizing: Taking things personally that may have nothing to do with you at all. Seeing situations or events as being caused by you when you can’t know the cause, and there are alternative possibilities.

  2. Underestimating coping ability: Thinking/believing that you can’t or won’t be able to manage or tolerate something that happens or is happening.

  3. Catastrophizing: Focusing on worst-case scenarios in a situation instead of seeing the many other possibilities and focusing on what’s real now. Often appears as “what if” questions that imagine the worst (thereby increasing anxiety).

  4. Repeating the same behavior and expecting different results (or doubling down on failed efforts): Thinking if you just do more of the same, you’ll get what you want.

  5. Labeling: Generalizing one or two characteristics or behaviors into a negative judgment about yourself or others (name-calling yourself or someone else).

  6. Fairness fallacy/heaven’s reward: The fairness fallacy is thinking we know what’s fair in life. This will often lead to resentment or anger because life isn’t “fair” and things don’t always go our way. Heaven’s reward is when we think that, if we or someone else does certain things or acts a certain way, we or they will be rewarded or will deserve something.

  7. All-or-nothing thinking: We think we or other people need to be perfect or we’re failures—there’s no room for mistakes (which are actually unavoidable as a human) or a middle way.

  8. “Shoulds” or “musts”: Thinking that we should or must do something differently, when really there are lots of reasons for behavior and no rules about what we “should” do. We tend to feel guilty/bad when we think this about ourselves. We tend to feel angry, frustrated, or resentful when we place these expectations on others.

  9. Blaming: We hold others responsible for our emotions, thoughts, or behavior. Or we blame ourselves for others’ problems, even when they are beyond our control.

  10. Emotional reasoning: We assume that if we feel a certain way, it must be true. This happens frequently with guilty feelings: “If I feel guilty, I must be guilty.”

  11. Fallacy of change: We think that other people will change if we just convince them enough. Frequently, this happens when we believe that our happiness or self-concept depends on the other person.

  12. Minimizing/magnifying: Minimizing is when we dismiss all the positive things we do or have done—and think they are unimportant. Magnifying is when we focus on our mistakes or flaws and see them as more important than they are.

  13. Jumping to conclusions: We assume we know what another person is feeling or thinking (also called mind reading)—and/or why they behave the way they do. Or we think we know what will happen in the future (also called fortune telling).

  14. Overvaluing what is yours: Thinking that our loved ones, our possessions, or we are somehow “better” or more important than others, or that they should be immune to “bad things” happening.

  15. Thinking self-criticism is an effective way to motivate yourself toward desirable behavior: Believing we need to be stern with or “punish” ourselves in order to achieve positive change. Self-compassion is much more effective!


We can use mindfulness to look deeply at our own habits of thinking and gradually start to reduce and eliminate them.

  1. Determine which ones you tend to engage in.
  2. Decide you will “look for” them in your mind.
  3. Notice them when they occur and label them.
  4. Ask yourself if you want to keep thinking this way or if you want to do something different.
  5. Ask yourself if there is an alternative explanation for what you are believing.
  6. Respond in a self-compassionate way to yourself and to the distorted thinking.

Remember not to get into an argument with your own mind.


When we try to convince ourselves of what is or isn’t true, we can get caught in obsessive rumination. What we resist (or fight, argue against, or avoid) persists and actually tends to increase.


You can absolutely transform your suffering into liberation and prioritize your peace of mind.


To start practicing mindfulness, join me in the first-ever Mindfulness Meditation Challenge for Parents of Addicted Adult Children.


It’s free! Learn more and sign up here.

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Victoria Stith

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  1. Thank you so much for the info. It’s like getting a little boost of positivity.

    • Thank you for your comment, Rhonda! I’m glad if it was beneficial!
      Also, feel free to join my Parent Mindfulness Meditation challenge, if you are the mom of an addicted adult child. You can learn more here: http://bit.ly/paacmeditate

      I hope you have a good week,

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