The Mindful Youth

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“I’m bad at maths and will never pass it because I failed this test.”

“No point asking because he’s not going to want to help me.”

“I should be able to score better. Why am I so stupid?”

In Singapore, many of our youths and students often have such thoughts, be it in school or at the workplace. Many will go on to become adults and end up with unhealthy coping mechanisms that they developed to protect themselves.

Cognitive Distortions are basically inaccurate ways that we perceive the events that happen in our lives. We say that it is an inaccurate thinking because it just isn’t true.

For example, just because you failed a math test once, does not mean you will NEVER be good at it.

The thing about cognitive distortions is that many people in the world experiences it from time to time. But when these inaccurate thought patterns become persistent and excessive, it can contribute or even lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 

The theory here is that having these negative thinking patterns will often reinforce our negative emotions and thoughts, which is what leads to all sorts of problems for us later on.

So in this article, I’m going to briefly share with you the different types of Cognitive Distortions and the various strategies that you can use to deal with them. Over time I will update this article with more in-depth articles on some of the Cognitive Distortions and Strategies, to explain what they are and how you can deal with them in greater detail.

The good news is that while there are many types of Cognitive Distortions, you only need one or two coping strategies to deal with all of them!


Research suggests that we develop cognitive distortions as a way to cope with negative events in our lives. The longer and more severe these negative events are, the more likely it is that we may develop one or more cognitive distortions from it.

Unfortunately, this coping mechanism is not healthy for us in the long term, as we can see from how these cognitive distortions negatively affect our lives.

Signs of Cognitive Distortions

Before we go on to the various types of cognitive distortions, there are actually a few common signs across the different types. This is good because later on when we talk about coping strategies, you will notice that they are applicable to many different types of cognitive distortions. You don’t need to learn something new for each one of them.

  • Tendency to think negatively or assume the worst.
  • Frequently use words like, “never”, “always”, “everyone”, “impossible”.
  • Have trouble seeing other alternatives.
  • Feeling hopeless or stuck in different situations.
  • Thinking you are broken or naturally lousier than others.

If you find any of these signs familiar, then I want you to know right now that it doesn’t have to be that way. What you are experiencing can be dealt with. You have the ability to learn how to cope better and I am going to teach you how.

You can be happy and awesome too!

Types of Cognitive Distortions

You will notice that some of the following Cognitive Distortions are quite similar to each other, especially once you’ve simplified them. You will notice the recurring factors of Absolute Thoughts and Negativity in most of them.

Like I mentioned before, this commonality is an advantage for us because it means that our coping strategies will be applicable for many of them with just a few tweaks.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

“I failed the first time so that means I will never be good at it.”

All-or-Nothing Thinking is when our views become extreme or absolute.

If I failed my Chemistry test then it must mean that I bad at Chemistry, therefore I will always fail it and never get improve.

I say extreme or absolute because with All-or-Nothing Thinking there is no consideration for the in-between. For example, maybe the paper was just set too difficult or maybe I studied the wrong chapter for the test. It jumps straight to oftentimes the worst possibility while ignoring all the other possibilities.


Overgeneralization is when you start using words like ‘never’ or ‘always’. Your English teacher may have taught you to avoid using ‘sweeping statements’ in your composition, and this cognitive distortion is quite similar to that idea.

This girl in class was only nice to me because she wanted my help. Therefore, all girls who are nice to someone are insincere and fake.

We overgeneralize when we take the result or conclusion of one event, and then apply it to every other similar event in the future – without any regard for other variables or factors. And because of this overgeneralization, it affects how we behave in the future often in a negative and unhealthy manner.

Mental Filter

A mental filter can be positive or negative, both of which are harmful it their own ways, but we’re going to focus on Negative Mental Filter.

I went to an anime convention today and it was horrible. The convention hall was crowded and smelly, people kept bumping into me, and I had to queue for more than an hour to even get in. It was a horrible experience.

If I told you that, you would most likely form the impression that, yes, it does sounds like I had a horrible experience. But what if I told you that I am only focusing on the negative, and that I have left out all of the positive things that happened?

Let me share my experience again but without a Mental Filter.

I went to an anime convention today and it was awesome! Yeah, it was packed like mad but I finally got to meet the boys from Trash Taste! Had to queue for an hour but thankfully I managed to get in! I laughed so much during the show and I actually made some friends while queuing up.

Negative mental filtering is when you start to ignore the positive things and focus too much on the negative ones, allowing it to affect your entire experience.

Disqualifying the Positive

This is similar to Mental Filter with the difference that we acknowledge the presence of something positive… but we disqualify it.

Yah I got Distinction, but I was just lucky.

This is not about being humble. This is not even like a closet mugger trying to downplay his own efforts. This is a genuine problem where someone is unable to accept or celebrate their own achievements or the positive things that happen in their lives.

Jumping to Conclusions

Quite self-explanatory but let me share two specific ways that a person might jump to conclusions

Mind Reading: No point asking because she will say no.

Fortune Telling: Try for what? I’m not going to pass.

At this point you might argue, “but I really know that person well and here are all the evidences from our past interactions that show a trend that he will say-” the fact that you are relying on evidences means that you are not trying to read minds or predict the future.

As a Cognitive Distortion, this process is not based on evidence or facts – which gives you an idea of how we’re going to deal with it later when we talk about coping strategies.


I found this to be quite common with the students and clients that I have worked with. Basically it’s when something bad happens and then you assume the worst – to infinity and beyond plus ultra.

My friend blue-ticked me. It’s been an hour and she hasn’t replied me. I think she hates me. Was it because that joke I made offended her? Must be that joke offended. Idiot. I shouldn’t have made that joke. She hates me now. I just lost my closest friend because of a stupid joke.

Here’s another example.

My friend blue-ticked me. It’s been an hour and she hasn’t replied me. Did she get into an accident? Maybe she fell down somewhere and hit her head. I need to go and find her. I better call the police.

Now let me tell you that the message was sent at 1:30AM and there’s school tomorrow morning.

So the more reasonable conclusion is that my friend is probably asleep right?

Catastrophizing is a negative thought pattern is that oftentimes irrational. You spiral down in a negative spin and get increasingly stressed out by the situation. And more often than not the reality is no where near as bad as you imagined it to be.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is when you take your emotions as facts over actual evidence presented to you.

I believe that my friends secretly hate me because I feel that they are judging me when I am not around.

Accepting your emotions rather than suppressing them is VERY different from taking your emotions as the absolute truth. Just because you feel that someone dislikes you does not prove that the person actually dislikes you. While your emotions are real, they could have been based on an irrational thought.

Should Statements

We use ‘should’ often in our daily conversations and that’s fine as long as it doesn’t cause harm. The problem is when we our ‘should’ statements start causing us to feel and behave negatively.

I should not have made that careless mistake. Why am I so stupid? I’m hopeless.

I should have been able to do it. What’s wrong with me?

It is basically placing an expectation on yourself and then being too harsh on yourself when you fail to live up to that expectation. While it’s normal to think “I shouldn’t have made that careless mistake”, it becomes abnormal when you go on to scold yourself and put yourself down.

Labeling and Mislabeling

This one is straightforward. It is when we label ourselves or someone else over just a single behaviour and event.

I am a failure because I failed that test.

Failing a test does not make a person a failure. By labelling myself as a failure, every time I attempt a task or a challenge, I would not expect myself to succeed because I am a failure. In fact, I may not even try in the first place because I already know that I will since (since I believe that I am a failure).

Because this label came about due to a single event (eg. I failed my math test, therefore I am a failure), it is not indicative of my actual ability. There are many reasons why I failed the test, so labelling myself as a failure because of that one event is not a fair judgement.


Personalization is when you think that you are responsible for things that were beyond your control, or when you interpret events to involve you when it didn’t at all. In other words, you took it personally.

My friend is not doing well in school and her grades have been dropping. This is my fault because I haven’t been a good enough friend at supporting her.

You are not responsible for your friend’s grades. It is not your responsibility to make sure she scores well. Hence this is an example of taking something personally or personalization.

My friend cancelled our outing at the last minute. He said it’s because his mum needs help with something urgent, but I know it must because he’s upset with me.

Again, as a cognitive distortion, personalization will involve a degree of irrational thinking. There is no evidence to support that interpretation, but we still end up thinking that way.

Coping Strategies

The good news is that these cognitive distortions can be overcome.

In many cases, simply knowing how to recognize them can be enough for you to overcome it on your own. But sometimes we can get really caught up in these cognitive distortions, so we need a more directed and active strategy to overcome it.

The following are some of the main coping strategies that I use to help my students. In the coming weeks, I will update this article with links to in-depth posts about how you can use these coping strategies with each of the specific cognitive distortions.

For now, take a look at these strategies and see if they’re able to help you.


You’ll be surprised but simply being aware that you are experiencing a cognitive distortion can be enough to for you to snap out of it. When you are aware that you are having an irrational thought, you can redirect yourself to focus on the facts and evidences.

It’s like watching a magic trick. The first time you watch, it looks like magic because you can’t figure it out. But once someone explains to you how the trick is done, it loses its illusion because you can see how it works.

Knowing how cognitive distortions work can sometimes be enough to help you.

Challenge Your Thoughts

Once you have the awareness that you are experiencing a cognitive distortion, it is then time to apply a more active strategy to deal with it.

Challenging your thoughts is what I like to describe as the process of turning an Absolute Thought into a Maybe Thought

Absolute Thought -> Maybe Thought

We do this by asking questions like we’re trying to poke holes in our absolute thoughts, as if we’re sceptical and don’t quite believe that it is true.

Absolute Thought: I am a failure.

Poking Holes: What makes you say that? What is your evidence? Show me the proof.

Maybe Thought: Maybe I am a failure, but maybe I only failed that test because I didn’t study enough

The key difference between an Absolute Thought and a Maybe Thought is hope. Absolute Thoughts will leave you without any hope, whereas a Maybe Thought leaves enough room for you to be hopeful that maybe the situation can be change.

And as long as you have hope, you will be able to take action and make a change for the better.

Reframe Your Perspective

The concept of this coping strategy is similar to Challenging Your Thoughts, but I’m going to present it to you in a different way.

Remember the example I shared in Mental Filter?

I went to an anime convention today and it was horrible. The convention hall was crowded and smelly, people kept bumping into me, and I had to queue for more than an hour to even get in. It was a horrible experience.

Reframing your perspective is when you look at a situation from a different angle with the aim of trying to reframe a negative perspective into a positive one.

Negative: I had to queue for an hour to get in.

Positive: I had to queue for an hour to get in, but I got to chat and made friends with the person in front of me in the queue!

Basically when we’re filled with negativity and can only see the negative, it would not do us any good to just wallow in all that negativity because it is not going to help us. Therefore we try to squeeze out a tiny bit of positivity and use that to motivate ourselves to take action and make an attempt to change things for the better.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

If your attempts to help yourself isn’t working out, then it would be a good idea to speak with a counsellor.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy, meaning lots of very smart scientists have done studies and research and they have found that it really works. It is a common and effective type of therapy that many counsellors, including myself, use to help clients with Cognitive Distortions.

The reason why I like CBT, aside from it being evidence-based, is that it is really structured and methodical. It goes through a process of first identifying your negative thinking patterns (cognitive distortions), learning how to interrupt it so that you don’t sink into a negative spiral, and then how you can change it such that you have healthy and positive thinking patterns instead.

If you’re a student in Singapore then most of your school counsellors will be trained in CBT. Have a chat with them and give it a try. Chances are they will be able to help you.


Cognitive Distortions are inaccurate ways that we perceive the events that happen in our lives. They are negative and often irrational thinking patterns that can really affect our mental health. However, they are also a common issue that everyone experiences at some point in their lives, so you are not alone. I experience cognitive distortions too!

Cognitive Distortions can definitely be overcome with various coping strategies. The best recommendation I can give you is to see a counsellor and have them help you out with it. If you are a student in Singapore, schools provide free counselling services for all of their students, so I encourage you to make an appointment with them and get the help you need.


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