Cognitive Distortion Sheet


To assess cognitive distortions in the subject using the Cognitive Distortion Sheet.


Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time. These patterns and systems of thought are often subtle– it’s difficult to recognize them when they are a regular feature of your day-to-day thoughts. That is why they can be so damaging since it’s hard to change what you don’t recognize as something that needs to change. Cognitive distortions come in many forms, but they all have some things in common. All cognitive distortions are:

  • Tendencies or patterns of thinking or believing;
  • That are false or inaccurate;
  • And have the potential to cause psychological damage.

According, to APA faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief. An example is an overgeneralization. A cognitive distortion is a normal psychological process that can occur in all people to a greater or lesser extent. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately. According to Aaron T. Beck’s cognitive model, a negative outlook on reality sometimes called negative schemas (or schemata), is a factor in symptoms of emotional dysfunction and poorer subjective well-being.

Types of Cognitive Distortions

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure.

2. Overgeneralization

This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment based on only one or two experiences.

3. Mental Filter

Similar to overgeneralization, the mental filter distortion focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences. The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

On the flip side, the “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them. For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems. This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuation of negative thought patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading

This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to. Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth. One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things. An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another. Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it is true; for example, we may become jealous and think our partner has feelings for someone else, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course, we know it isn’t reasonable to take our feelings as fact, but it is a common distortion nonetheless.

9. Should Statements

Another particularly damaging distortion is the tendency to make “should” statements. Should statements are the statements that you make to yourself about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, or what you “must” do. They can also be applied to others, imposing a set of expectations that will likely not be met. When we hang on too tightly to our “should” statements about ourselves, the result is often guilt that we cannot live up to them. When we cling to our “should” statements about others, we are generally disappointed by their failure to meet our expectations, leading to anger and resentment.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

These tendencies are basically extreme forms of an overgeneralization, in which we assign judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience. For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

As the name implies, this distortion involves taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame. This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you. In addition to these basic cognitive distortions, Beck and Burns have mentioned a few others.

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate. No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness. A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want. A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right. For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off? Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

How to cope

This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you.

  1. Identify the distortion – The most important step of fixing any problem in your life is identifying exactly what the problem is and how extensive it is in your life. An auto mechanic starts with a diagnostic assessment of your car when it has a problem. In this same manner, you need to identify and track the cognitive distortions in your daily thinking first, before you start working to change them.
  2. Examine the Evidence – the next step is to remove yourself from the emotionality of the upsetting event or episode of irrational thinking in order to examine the evidence more objectively. A thorough examination of an experience allows you to identify the basis for your distorted thoughts.
  3. Double Standard Method – An alternative to “self-talk” that is harsh and demeaning is to talk to ourselves in the same compassionate and caring way that we would talk with a friend in a similar situation. We are frequently much harder on ourselves than the people we care about in our lives.
  4. Thinking in Shades of Gray – Instead of thinking about a problem or predicament in an either-or polarity, thinking in shades of gray requires us to evaluate things on a scale of 0 through 100. When a plan or goal is not fully realized, think about and evaluate the experience as a partial success on this kind of scale.
  5. Experimental Method – Can you test whether your irrational thoughts have any basis in fact outside of a trial? You sure can, by using the same kinds of methods that science uses in order to test a hypothesis.
  6. Survey Method – Similar to the experimental method, the survey method is focused on asking others in a similar situation about their experiences to determine how irrational our thoughts might be. Using this method, a person seeks the opinions of others regarding whether their thoughts and attitudes are realistic.
  7. The Semantic Method – When a person engages in a series of should statements (“I should do this” or “I shouldn’t do that”), they are applying a set of unwritten rules to their behavior that may make little sense to others. Should statements imply a judgment about your or another person’s behavior — one that may be unhelpful and even hurtful.
  8. Definitions – For people who are more intellectual and like to argue about minutiae, this method of arguing with your cognitive distortions might come in handy. What does it mean to define ourselves as “inferior,” “a loser,” “a fool,” or “abnormal.” An examination of these and other global labels may reveal that they more closely represent specific behaviors, or an identifiable behavior pattern, instead of the total person.
  9. Re-attribution – In re-attribution, a person identifies external factors and other individuals that contributed to the problem or event. Regardless of the degree of responsibility a person assumes, a person’s energy is best utilized in the pursuit of resolutions to problems or identifying ways to cope with predicaments. By assigning responsibility accordingly, you’re not trying to deflect blame, but ensure you’re not blaming yourself entirely for something that wasn’t entirely your fault.
  10. Cost-Benefit Analysis – This method for answering an irrational belief relies on motivation rather than facts to help a person undo the cognitive distortion. In this technique, it is helpful to list the advantages and disadvantages of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. A cost-benefit analysis will help to figure out what a person is gaining from feeling bad, distorted thinking, and inappropriate behavior.


Name: Mr. J.K

Age: 23 yr

Gender: Male


Cognitive Distortion worksheet, Pen, Pencil


After forming rapport, the following instructions were given to the subject-

I am going to give you a cognitive distortion sheet. The form includes 8 rows- date, time, situation, negative automatic thoughts about the situation, emotion, cognitive distortion, alternate explanation, and outcome. You can rate the intensity of emotion out of 100 percent. You can then write down an alternate explanation to your automatic thought after thinking rationally and then write how you feel about the situation in the outcome column. Do this for five consecutive days.


Rapport was formed with the subject before giving the instructions, and the subject was told that they had complete choice of filling the form or deciding to drop out of it at any point. Followed by this, instructions were made clear and any queries or confusions that the subject had were resolved. The cognitive distortions sheet was collected back after a period of 5 days. Analysis of the distortions was carried out for each day, followed by which, interpretations were made.


 DateTime Situation Negative Automatic ThoughtEmotionCognitive DistortionAlternate ExplanationOutcome
116/06/214 pmNot getting a call from a friend.Why didn’t she call me, is she all okay?80% anxiousOvergeneralizationI should call her and check if she is okay.Feeling relief.
217/06/214:30 pmI scored less this time.I am very careless and am not hard working.70% guiltyMental filterI’ll work harder the next time, and this time, almost everyone scored less.Feeling hopeful
318/06/2110:30 amI failed to wake up on timeI can’t do anything.70% disappointedAll or none thinkingI should set up multiple alarms.Feeling hopeful
419/06/213 pmMom didn’t give permission to order food online.I knew mom will do this to me, she never agrees.90% furyJumping to conclusionsIt’s okay. Mom just doesn’t want me to be infected.Feeling protected and cared for.
520/06/217 pmWatching people doing Exercise and maintaining their healthI should stop being lazy and start exercising today.80% shameShould statementI was preoccupied with work, I didn’t have time.Feeling optimistic

The above table represents different Negative automatic thought about the particular situations, and indicate the emotion associated with it, along with the degree of feeling. After the identification of different automatic thoughts, the different cognitive distortions were identified for each NAT. Alternative explanations taken by the subject are also reported and that leads to feeling better and relaxed.


The aim of the practical is to identify and rectify the cognitive distortion of the subject. To begin with, as per the entries in the form, most situations that elicited negative automatic thoughts made the subject think critically of themselves. These were the results of cognitive distortions. The five cognitive distortions as experienced by the subject were overgeneralization, mental filter, all or none thinking, jumping to conclusions, and should statement. The emotions associated with these negative automatic thoughts and situations were most intense and caused evident distress. However, with the help of alternate ways of thinking about these situations more logically and busting the distortions, the subject witnessed relatively positive outcomes.

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