Cognitive restructuring

'Cognition' is a word used to denote a thought or belief, and 'restructuring' involves challenging a cognition by looking at the evidence for or against it. The basic idea behind cognitive restructuring is that thoughts themselves are not facts; you need to consider whether the thoughts you are having are true and to consider whether there are any other ways to thinking about a particular situation. At first this can be a real challenge: we often believe what we think and don't question our own thoughts. However, often our thinking is biased, and with perfectionism it can be biased towards thinking too negatively and harshly about yourself - and then you have negative feelings as a result. 

Thoughts vs Feelings

To become aware of your thoughts, it is useful to ask yourself "What is going through my mind?" Sometimes thoughts can be statements, such as "I'm a failure", but sometimes you might also have images coming into your mind. For example, when thinking about an upcoming presentation having a mental picture of yourself shaking with anxiety at the lectern or forgetting what to say. It is useful to write down the thoughts and images that come into your mind so you can gain more insight into:

  • Which thoughts occur most frequently.

  • What triggers you (occurs right before an event) to think certain thoughts.

  • How positive or negative those thoughts are.

Feelings, on the other hand, are your emotional reactions or the emotional states we all experience. Some common words to describes feelings include: 

Angry

Sad

Nervous

Happy

Excited

Relaxed

Ashamed

Frustrated

Calm 

Irritable 

 

Typically feelings can be captured by one word whereas thoughts are longer statements. For example, you might say something like "I feel my partner was rude to me and it was unnecessary for them to upset me." The feeling you experience is being upset, but this type of statement is actually expressing a thought. 

Thinking patterns

The end of the last session introduced some thinking patterns which are commonly used when pursuing goals. Here's a quick recap:

'Should' statements

A common 'should' statement would be "I should exercise every day". A should statement turns a goal into a rule. 

Selective attention

Focusing on the small mistakes, minor flaws, or weaknesses in yourself or your performance, and not factoring in your strengths or better moments.

Double standards

Applying standards to yourself which do not hold for others.

Overgeneralisation

Broad sweeping conclusions which become extensively applied, but are based on one or a few experiences. An overgeneralisation might be "I failed at my goal last time so I'm always going to be a failure".

 

Take a look at Session 2 again if you need a more detailed refresher on what these thinking styles are.

All or Nothing

People with perfectionism set themselves very rigid and demanding rules by which they measure their successes. The problem with this is that by setting rigid rules (e.g. I must have over 80% on all my grades or else I am a failure) a person can become trapped in a cycle of evaluating their goals in this all or nothing way. Thinking in this way typically leads to one of two outcomes: not reaching a certain standard, no matter how close it was to being met, is counted as a complete failure, or a certain standard is reached, but then discounted as having set the bar too low. It's a no-win situation. 

Not all thought types or thinking patterns are mentioned in this program, but this session will introduce one more which is often linked with perfectionism. Introducing, the All or Nothing mentality.

 

Other names for this style of thinking include 'black and white' or 'dichotomous' thinking. All or nothing thinking involves judging standards in two categories and viewing things in extremes, for example: 

Good or Bad

Failed or Succeeded

Always or Never

Totally or Not at all

All or nothing thinking is an important factor that distinguishes healthy goal attainment from unhelpful perfectionism. If you judge your successes based on all or nothing thinking it leaves no room for the middle ground. It means that an 'average' performance can only fall into one of two categories: success or failure, with no shades of grey.

Area

Example of All or Nothing Thinking

Sport

If I do not come first in my competition, I'm not a real athlete. 

Apperance

If I do not look stylish and put together people will think I am lazy and have let myself go

Work

If I do not write an excellent report, then I am a bad employee

Home life

If I do not clean everyday, the house will always look dirty

Parenting

If my child does not excel at school I am a useless parent

Diet

If I eat one piece of chocolate my diet is ruined

All or nothing thinking is particularly relevant to perfectionism because much of what keeps perfectionism going involves setting rigid rules and high standards, all or nothing thinking is then used to evaluate how well these rules are maintained or complied with.