This week, let’s get rid of another unhelpful cognitive distortion that can lead us into feeling depressed or anxious. This one is what’s called the mental filter. This is where you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened. It’s the mental equivalent of adding a drop of black ink to a glass of water. It will make all the water dark.
This tends to happen when something doesn’t go our way and it feels like nothing does. For example, you get a parking ticket and it feels like your day is ruined. Maybe you have thoughts like, “why is everything so difficult?” Or, “why me?”.
The key to reversing this distortion is similar to the previous one. When you recognize that you are feeling bad about an event, it’s important to balance that occurrence with the positives that are also occurring.
Yes, you feel bad and no you don’t like the event that occurred. It’s certainly not about being in denial of the negative, it’s about not allowing yourself to deny the positive.
So, when you notice yourself feeling bad about a parking ticket, for example, can you make yourself think of 5 related or unrelated positives? For example “I don’t like this ticket but I am glad I have a car” “I don’t like this ticket but I’m glad I have money to pay it” “I don’t like this ticket but I’m glad it’s this rather than my car being towed”. “I don’t like this ticket but I’m glad it’s on an intact windshield and not one that’s been smashed”. “I don’t like this ticket but I really like the color of my car”. If it’s too hard to think of ones that are directly related, it’s totally ok to branch out. Like “I don’t like this ticket but I like the trees in this neighborhood, or the haircut I got last week, or the friend I just spoke with”.
So this week, commit to thinking of 5 positives and list them in your head along with what you don’t like, anytime you notice you have a negative mental filter in your mind.
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Have a great week!
Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.