Cognitive Psychology: The Overlap of Life Coaching and Psychotherapy
One of the ways that life coaching overlaps with therapy is in the area of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology looks at how changing one’s thoughts can change emotions surrounding the thought. Similarly, changing behavior can influence thoughts to change which in turn bring changes to feelings. The practical application of this for both psychotherapy and life coaching is almost identical: feelings usually cannot be changed directly. Instead, they must be changed indirectly via changed thoughts and/or changed behaviors.
Now there are common cognitive distortions that seem to run through all the vast variety of human problems and relationships. These errors of thought are not like mathematical errors or errors of logic. Rather, they are distortions in ones’ view of things. In other words, they are like the lens through which your clients see the issues they are dealing with.
We all know that our eyes have lenses through which we see the physical world. But many people don’t think about the fact that our brain is also a lens through which we interpret the meaning of what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. These cognitive distortions function as lens distortions.
15 Common Lens Distortions
- Perfect or Nothing Often referred to as “all-or-nothing thinking” or “black-and-white thinking” where no gray area or middle ground is acknowledged. The antidote for this way of thinking is to consciously switch from categorizing things to placing them on a continuum to fit more with reality. People who indulge in this all-or-nothing, categorical lens distortion attract the symptoms of stress like a magnet.
- Once = Always or “Twice is a Pattern.” Also called “overgeneralization.“ Seeing patterns when there are not enough instances to make a pattern.
- What-if Worrying Also called “Preparation Obsession;” “WHAT-Ifs Catastrophizing,” or, “Get-a-sense-of-control-by-thinking-of-everything-that-could-go-wrong.” The assumption that no action can be taken until one is prepared for ALL POSSIBLE negative outcomes.
- Filter Out the Positives See only the negative aspects of a situation.
- Jumping to Conclusions Keeping the evidence out of your frame or view.
- Negative Magnifying Glass Also called “Negative Zoom.”
- No Good Angle E.g., “There is no point in trying.” Spinning the interpretation of a situation so that it is portrayed to self or others in the most unflattering light and insisting that a better angle to view it simply doesn’t exist.
- Blurred Background Also called “STATE/TRAIT Twisting:” Background circumstances to something negative don’t matter. The background circumstances don’t represent temporary states (e.g., fatigue), but rather ongoing traits (I’m/You’re stupid). Example 1: If I messed up it was because I was tired (temporary state); if you messed up it’s because you are lazy (permanent trait). Example 2: If I made a mistake then “I couldn’t help it” (temporary state or circumstances), but if you made a mistake, then “you should have known better” and are therefore inconsiderate (permanent flaw/trait).
- Projector Lens: Your feelings projected like a movie onto someone else as if they were the movie screen. Examples: “f it feels true to me, then it must be true about you;” or, “I feel ashamed, therefore you mush be ashamed of me;” or, “I am angry, therefore you must be angry at me.”
- Cynical Prediction or “Disappointment Phobia;” one form is ASSUMING THE WORST as in “trust nobody and you won’t be disappointed,” or “ be ready for the worst outcome and you won’t be let down.”
- Should Bullying “I HAVE to get this turned in on time or I’m sunk;” I’ve GOT to…”
- Categorizing Dumpster I can re-categorize things or people (e.g., name calling) so that I don’t have any responsibility to do something constructive; one example is “Ridiculous Angle” (re-categorizing something as RIDICULOUS by looking at it from an extreme angle).
- Trick Photo What I see in the situation that is positive must be a trick, it CAN’T be real. The negative is what is real; evidence of positive doesn’t count (similar to minimization).
- It’s All About Me “My excuses matter, but not those of other people;” or, “they did this to get back at me;” or, “she’s quiet because she’s judging me” (this would also be Projector Lens). Another example is “he hasn’t called me back because he hates me.” A very common example: “Read My Mind—people should know what I want or need even though I don’t communicate clearly.” “You KNEW that it would make me furious!”
- Fish-Eye Assuming that you can see everything that needs to be considered with your own perspective. This distortion ignores the fact that even if you did see everything, it would be distorted. This is because you can only see situations from where you are standing. No one can see everything from every perspective at the same time.