Mental Filter

In this cognitive distortion, you concentrate so strongly on one aspect of a task or a situation that you can't even see the rest. Your automatic thoughts all deal with this one concern. If, for example, you ran out of time on a previous test, you may find yourself so preoccupied with the time limit that you have trouble concentrating on the questions. Five minutes into an hour-long test, you find yourself glancing at the clock. The automatic thought that keeps coming up is, "I'm going to run out of time." It may also be true that you can work faster on this test because you know the material better, but the cognitive distortion filters out that fact, and all the others that might help you.

This is a conversation that I've had, with slight variations, with dozens of students:

STUDENT: So you hated my essay, huh?

ME: What do you mean, "hated it"? Where do you get that? You've got your essay right there--What did I say? Read me the first two words after your name, the first comment I made about it.

STUDENT: "Good essay."

ME: Why would I say that about an essay I hated? If I had hated it, wouldn't I be more likely to say something like, "Lousy essay"?

STUDENT: Yeah, but you go on about all this stuff wrong with it. You say I don't present enough evidence.

If you concentrate on a negative comment and filter out all the positive ones, you will nearly always be disappointed with your performance, even when you ought to be proud of it.

Three kinds of mental filters deserve special attention:

To Cognitive Distortions List


1996 John Tagg


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