I am continuing my breakdown of Dr. Burns’s Podcasts.  I have tried to put them in a logical order and skipped ones that are more for practitioners.  As I have mentioned, they are very interesting to listen to, but I get it – who has the time?  Below is a quick overview of Podcasts #10, 11, and 12, all explaining some cognitive distortions.  There are more, but it does give you an idea of what they are. If you want to listen to the full podcasts and many others, click to Dr. Burns’ Feeling Good website.  Not ready?  The read below will get you started.

Podcast #10 – First 3 Distortions 

It is not what happens to us but our interpretation of what is happening to us. 

This concept was introduced in the 1950s by Albert Ellis and popularized in the 1960s by Aaron Beck. 

The idea is:

Thoughts create feelings – thoughts that upset us are often distorted and illogical.

Fraudulent, wrong thoughts trigger depression, Anxiety, and Anger.

Looking at things differently can have powerful effects.

It is human nature – we make ourselves miserable by looking at things in a way that is not realistic. 

Cognitive Distortions are what you are telling yourself.

Cognitive Distortions #1. All or Nothing Thinking

This is black-and-white thinking based in the here and now.  Examples are thoughts like:

  • I am going to blow an event completely.
  • I am worthless.
  • Things are going to be wonderful or terrible.
  • I am a loser.

Typically, they are 100% negative.

Perfectionism and borderline personality disorder are caused by all-or-nothing thinking. 

Positive All or Nothing Thinking – When we are trying to be perfect, our work is often not the best.  It is distorted to think we have to be #1 and anything less than 100% perfect is unacceptable. 

Cognitive Distortions#2. Over-generalization

This occurs when we experience a negative event and project it into the future.  Examples of thoughts are:

  • I am always messing up.
  • I am never going to…
  • I will be alone forever.
  • No one will ever love me. 

Positive over-generalization – If someone suffers from depression – the negative distortion is that we will never recover.  Recovery occurs when we realize the negative thoughts we had were distorted.  We experience the greatest happiness and think I will be happy forever.  This is distorted because we will relapse at some point.

3 & 4 Mental Filter & Discounting the Positives

These two go hand in hand.  We do this when we focus on the negative and discount the positive.  We take in something positive and we convince ourselves it doesn’t count. Our negative mental filter rejects it.

An example of when we might do this is we receive several glowing positive reviews, but one negative.  We shift our focus 100% on the negative review. We hyper-focus on errors and the negative.  If we score 80% on a test, we focus on the 20% we got wrong.  If someone gives us a  compliment, we think they are only being nice to us.   (“Imposter Syndrome” is often the result of this type of thinking)

You can have a positive mental filter which is distorted as well.  Dr. Burns used Donald Trump as an example, because when he receives criticism, he views the other person as flawed.

When we are criticized, we naturally want to defend ourselves, discounting the validity of the criticism.  Most of us learn to view criticism as constructive when it is meant to be, not as a personal attack.

Listen to Podcast #10 here:

Podcast #11 – 3 More Cognitive Distortions

5. Jumping to Conclusions

This is when we jump to the conclusion that is not justified.  We do this in 2 ways. 

  1. Mind Reading – we make negative assumptions about what another person is thinking. We assume they are not interested or that they don’t “feel” like you do.  Dr. Burns used the example of dining in a restaurant and watching a table that arrived after him get better service.  The truth was that the server was waiting for him to finish an appetizer that Dr. Burns didn’t care for, before he brought the entree. A perfectly logical explanation and nothing personal. 
  2. Fortune Telling – this is when we make a negative prediction about the future – all anxiety is caused by fortune telling.  Examples are: the plane will crash, the presentation will flop, etc.  Anxiety there are always thoughts that cause anxiety.  In a panic attack –  I am going to go crazy, I am going to die.  Depression – I will never get better; I will always be this way (hopelessness).

6. Magnification and Minimization

When we procrastinate or put something off, we are usually magnifying the task. When trying to control our eating, we exaggerate when we picture how good a donut will taste.

If we minimize, we act oppositely. We persuade ourselves that a single donut won’t be harmful.

7. Emotional Reasoning

This is when we reason from our feelings. Examples of what we might think are:

  • I feel anxious, so I must be in danger.
  • I feel hopeless, so I must be.

We believe our feelings. However, emotions are created by our thoughts; if thoughts are distorted, so are your feelings. There are causal linkages between thoughts and feelings that can operate both ways. Negative feelings cause negative thoughts – an initial thought will always precede the original feeling.  It is like a domino effect. 

Listen to Podcast #11 here:

Podcast 12 – 2 More Cognitive Distortions

8. Should Statements

Self-directed should statements create shame, guilt, and inadequacy. Other should statements (directed at others) create frustration and anger. 

3 valid uses of the word should – legal should, laws of the universe should, and moral should.   All “shoulds” are a positive distortion. 

9. Labeling

This is when we label ourselves – I am a loser or a failure – rather than allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

Labeling others is painting others with broad brush strokes.


A sexual abuse victim labels herself as dirty. This is distorted thinking as the person is a victim.

A mother calls herself a bad mother because her child is struggling. This is distorted because the child’s struggles are not the mother’s fault.

Listen to Podcast #12 here:


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