What is a Cognitive Distortion?

Cognitive Distortion, Defined:
An unpleasant state that arises when an individual holds beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours that are at odds with one another. 

Conflicting Thoughts:
“I know it is good for my health to exercise three times a week,” and “I did not exercise at all this week. I’ll never be healthy so I may as well give up.”

These thoughts can cause…
Anxiety and discomfort; individuals are motivated to move themselves out of dissonance.

And are used as…
Coping strategies. When things feel hard, one is often tempted to rationalize, deny, and minimize. “That was a long walk from the parking lot, I can count that as my exercise.”

Instead, you can…
Recognize and challenge the anxiety and discomfort. Transformational learning occurs when we open our minds and hearts to this work.


A cognition simply refers to your perception of reality (how you interpret the world around you) and yourself (what you communicate to yourself, your beliefs, your values, etc.). When you feel negative, your thoughts are dominated by pervasive negativity. Why? Because you distort (or misinterpret) the information you’re receiving.

A cognitive distortion, then, is when we convince ourselves of something that simply isn’t true.


These thoughts are irrational or just plain wrong. In fact, it’s not the event itself that causes feelings of negativity; it’s your response to the event. Ultimately, it is you who is in control of your thoughts, and therefore, your emotions.