A Guide to Cognitive Wellness – Thinking Styles


April 1, 2024

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In our internal dialogues, we often encounter a host of unhelpful thinking styles that can distort our perception of reality and dampen our mental well-being. By learning to identify and challenge these cognitive distortions, we can foster a healthier, more balanced mindset. Here’s a breakdown of some common unhelpful thinking styles and how to counteract them:

Black & White Thinking

  • Finding Balance: Life is rarely absolute. Learn to perceive the nuances and embrace the “gray areas” between the extremes of black and white thinking.
  • Flexibility Over Rigidity: Ask yourself if there’s a middle ground or a spectrum of possibilities rather than just two stark opposites.

Shoulding and Musting

  • Questioning Rules: Recognize when “shoulds” and “musts” are helpful guidelines and when they are unrealistic demands you place on yourself or others.
  • Replacing with Preferences: Shift from “should” to “prefer,” which acknowledges desire without imposing strict rules.


  • Judging Actions, Not People: Instead of labeling yourself or others based on actions or mistakes, assess each situation independently and recognize that one aspect doesn’t define the whole.
  • Seeking Evidence: Challenge labels by looking for evidence of the contrary. Remember that everyone is multifaceted and capable of change.

Disqualifying the Positives

  • Acknowledging Successes: Make a conscious effort to recognize and celebrate successes, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Balancing the Evidence: When you notice yourself dismissing the positive, pause and reflect on why that evidence deserves recognition too.

Mental Filter

  • The Whole Picture: Make an effort to see all aspects of a situation, not just the negative ones. Consider what you might be overlooking.
  • Comprehensive Awareness: Actively remind yourself to acknowledge both the good and the bad.

Jumping to Conclusions

  • Questioning Assumptions: Before drawing conclusions, gather all the facts. Consider alternative explanations and viewpoints.
  • Checking Feelings: Assess whether your current emotional state might be coloring your judgment.


  • Finding the Causes: Understand that not everything is within your control. Separate what is your responsibility from what isn’t.
  • Considering External Factors: Acknowledge other influences or circumstances that may have contributed to the outcome.


  • Perspective: When you catch yourself expecting the worst, step back and consider the most likely outcome rather than the worst-case scenario.
  • Relative Importance: Evaluate how significant the issue is in the grand scheme of life. This can reduce the tendency to catastrophize.

By actively challenging these unhelpful thinking styles, we can reduce their grip on our mental health and open ourselves to a more realistic and kinder interpretation of the world around us and our experiences within it.

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