For a start, catch yourself doing it. Know the cues to watch for: looking at things in extremes, only seeing negatives, building up the bad points in a situation (be it past, present or future), ‘reading’ other people’s minds, predicting the future, assuming that what you feel is reality, and relating everything back to yourself.
Watch especially for rigid thinking. When you find yourself resisting other ways of viewing something, this could be a sign that you are locking yourself into a narrowed, distorted viewpoint.
Stop using words which exaggerate — like always, forever, totally, all, everything, everybody, nothing, nobody, never and the like.
Get things back into balance — by looking for the side of the picture you have been filtering out. Make a list, for example, of the positives and the negatives. If you cannot find both, you know you are distorting reality. Few things are either one way or the other — so keep listing.
Develop the habit of sticking to the facts — as far as you can unearth them. When you think you might be jumping to conclusions, ask yourself, ‘What evidence do I have for assuming this? Is it the most likely explanation for the facts available? Are there any others which may be just as valid?’
If you are worrying about something, rate the chances of it happening on a scale of, say, 0–100 per cent. Being this specific will help you clarify vague predictions.
Finally, if it is possible, check out your interpretation of something you are concerned about and see how it compares with reality.
Getting things back into perspective
Take a look at the list of typical distortions below. Alongside each, to show ‘in-perspective’ thinking, is a more realistic alternative.
Distorted thinking Realistic thinking
I’m a total failure. I failed this time.
Everything’s wrong. I’m facing some problems at present.
It’s got to be done perfectly or not at all. I’d prefer to get it just right, but less than perfect will do.
This is totally wrong. I disagree with some aspects of this.
She made me angry. I don’t like what she did, but I made myself angry by the way I viewed it.
She did it because she hates me. I don’t know why she did it. There’s more than one possible explanation.
Everyone will think I’m stupid. Some people may be critical of me.
I’ll never be happy again. Sure, things aren’t so good now. But how do I know what the future holds?
All I get is pain. I get a lot of pain. But there are also some good things that happen — if I’d only be prepared to notice them.
Sometimes it is hard to know for sure just what is going on. You won’t always have enough information to be certain. But it is important to at least recognize that there may be more than one way to interpret a given situation. By doing . so you can avoid jumping to erroneous and possibly harmful conclusions.
That could be the best way to avoid distorting reality: retain a healthy skepticism about it.