4 Cognitive Distortions That Get in the Way of Life

We don’t hesitate to order a tried-and-true meal at a restaurant instead of trying something new. We automatically think of the fans of our favorite band as good people. We choose only games by well-known providers at the casino Cookie. We don’t quit a boring job because we’re afraid of change. These are all examples of cognitive distortions. Let’s figure out what they are and how to get rid of them.

What Cognitive Distortions Are

Cognitive distortions, or mental traps, are thinking mistakes that we all make in one way or another. It’s hard to say exactly how many cognitive distortions there are. The Wikipedia article contains about two hundred of them. And the list keeps growing. Buster Banson has analyzed all the distortions and combined them into 20 unique groups. They can be seen in John Manojian’s chart.

The Effect of Joining the Majority

A person believes that the opinion shared by the majority is the right one. Because of this, he does some things not because he wants to, but because that’s what everyone around him does.

One way to join the majority is to distort in favor of one’s group. There are “we” – citizens of the country, graduates of a certain college, fans of a musical group. We think alike, we trust each other. We are united by common values. And we consider the opinion of “our own” to be more important and correct than the opinion of others.

The Sunk Cost Trap

This cognitive distortion causes you to invest time, money, and effort in an unprofitable business. The business has gone bust and is not generating any income. But the entrepreneur has already spent so many resources on it that it’s a shame to stop. Another example is that family life does not work out. The relationship does not bring joy. But the partners have spent so many years together that it’s scary to break up. And they move on and suffer instead of starting over.

The Third Person Effect

Everyone thinks that advertising, propaganda, and any other means of manipulation work on most of the people around them, but not on him. He himself is wise enough to make his own decisions. For example, choosing kefir in the brightest box or voting for the candidate his friends supported.


Stereotypes divide the world around you into understandable categories and help save mental effort. They can be either positive or negative. It’s interesting that people don’t usually apply stereotypes to themselves. We know that Russians don’t drink vodka for breakfast and don’t carry a balalaika in their backpack. But we can believe that French women are all classy and refined, and Germans are pedantic and punctual.

Why We Need Cognitive Distortions

Helping the Brain Process Information

The brain can’t process everything it encounters. To save effort, it chooses what to pay attention to. And cognitive distortions help weed out the unnecessary. We notice the bright, the clear, the familiar long ago or, conversely, the drastically changed. We like what confirms our opinions and beliefs.

Learning About the World

The world around us is complex. A person sees only a small piece of it. Cognitive distortions help us paint an overall picture of the world. With their help we find patterns. We fill in the gaps in knowledge based on past experience or our own fantasies. Simplify the structure of the world around us, make it understandable.

Motivation to Act

A person must constantly react to the changes around him and make decisions on which his life may depend. Cognitive distortions motivate action. For example, we believe that something depends on our actions. We focus on quick results and have difficulty making long-term plans. We like to finish what we have already invested time and effort in. Prefer quick and simple actions to complicated and confusing ones.

Remembering What’s Important

Human memory cannot store everything. But it’s important for us to remember experiences so we can use them to adjust decisions in the future. Cognitive distortions help us sort the information we receive into important and unimportant. We edit our memories, discarding specifics and remembering the situation as a whole. We simplify what happened to specific key points.

Why We Shouldn’t Rely on Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Distortions Create an Incomplete Picture of the World

Over and over again sifting out supposedly unnecessary information, a person creates a picture of the world that is far from reality. At best, it will be incomplete, and at worst, erroneous. We see only those facts that support our judgments. And we ignore anything that might shake our already formed beliefs. We discount information that seems “wrong.”

Cognitive Distortions Create Illusions

We look for causal connections even when they do not exist. Magical thinking, for example, is based on this feature. Belief in omens, fortune tellers, and astrological predictions. Such illusions prevent us from acting rationally.

Cognitive Distortions Cause Wrong Decisions

Mental errors often prevent us from perceiving a situation adequately and making the right conclusions. We make some decisions based on our own picture of the world, which may be far from reality.

Selective Memory Perpetuates Errors

We remember what proves us right. We overestimate our contribution to success. We forget some fundamentally important moments of the past because we don’t give them the importance they deserve. This prevents us from analyzing mistakes and avoiding them in the future.

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