In these articles, I explore the wide realm of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and delve into how our thoughts shape our inner worlds, external behaviors, and moods.

A Spendthrift, who had wasted his fortune, and had nothing left but the clothes in which he stood, saw a Swallow one fine day in early spring. Thinking that summer had come, and that he could now do without his coat, he went and sold it for what it would fetch. A change, however, took place in the weather, and there came a sharp frost which killed the unfortunate Swallow. When the Spendthrift saw its dead body he cried, “Miserable bird! Thanks to you I am perishing of cold myself.”

One swallow does not make summer.

The Spendthrift and the Swallow from Aesop’s Fables

The Spendthrift clearly made a thinking error. In his case, the error was mistaking one migrating bird for the arrival of Summer. Just because one bird shows up does not mean Summer is here early. In the case of the Spendthrift, he formed his plans upon the arrival of the bird. But this seemingly simple, cognitive mistake spelled grave consequences. The man died of exposure.

We all commit errors in thinking all the time. This is nothing special. But what if you routinely distorted reality in your mind? What if there were one or two cognitive distortions you committed all the time? Would that not result in grave outcomes, to one degree or another? Of course it would.

Consider the following three very common errors in thought with examples. We will explore others in a future post. Often, these are so automatic that we are not aware of them. Becoming aware of them is the first step to fighting them.

Black-or-white thinking, or all-or-nothing thinking. This thinking error mistakenly insists reality is simple and that options are binary.

  • “Either you’re with me, or you’re my enemy.”
  • “I’m either a complete success or a complete failure.”
  • “Some people have all the luck and I’m just unlucky.”

Overgeneralization. Similar to all-or-nothing thinking, this fallacy takes one bit of evidence and makes everything out of it. Everything has to fit into the simplified evidence. Just like the Spendthrift’s error, one swallow does not mean the entirety of Summer is here. There may be other reasons for the early bird.

  • “I’ll never date her again. She was late once. She’ll always be late.”
  • “The personal trainer looked at his phone while with that client. I’m taking him off my list of recommended trainers.”
  • “The alternator went out in the Mustang. Fords are garbage cars.”

Catastrophizing. This fallacious way of thinking makes mountains out of molehills, as the saying goes. It takes a circumstance to an extreme conclusion as the only likely outcome.

  • “I felt a pain in my side. I probably have cancer.”
  • “The car broke down again. I’ll go broke trying to fix it.”
  • “He didn’t answer my text. I knew he hated me.”

You probably noticed these thinking errors all seemed to have a similarity. You’d be right if you thought that. There is overlap.

What is your thinking like? Do automatic thoughts like these or similar errors cause you anger, depression, or anxiety? I’ll bet that has happened to you occasionally, as it does to all of us. If such thinking errors seem to have gotten stuck, however, like old wheel ruts you can’t seem to get away from, they can result in progressively worsening mood and behaviors. Contact me today if this sounds like your struggle.

A good dose of cognitive-behavioral therapy may be the ticket to a clean bill of mental health.