Are You Engaging In Mental Filtering?
What is Mental Filtering?
Mental Filtering is when you magnify negative details of your life and filter out the positive details. For example, have you ever received a B grade on a paper you wrote for school? Perhaps the teacher complimented the parts of your paper you did well on, but you focus on the constructive criticism she gave about the parts that need improvement. You beat yourself up emotionally and view your paper as a failure. This is a mild form of mental filtering. More extreme versions of mental filtering come in the form of “always” and “never” statements, such as “I always fail at everything” or “I never do anything right.” You filter out the successes and the times when you did do something right.
How to Combat Mental Filtering
There are several techniques for combating mental filtering. Start by identifying when you are engaging in this destructive thinking pattern. Create a list of your troublesome thoughts and analyze whether they are in the form of “always” and “never” statements. Then try the following techniques to remove the negative filter.
Analyze the Supporting Evidence (are all swans white?) – Try to identify the basis for your negative view, and then challenge it! What evidence do you have to support the belief that you always fail at everything? Always is an absolute. As the Philosopher Karl Popper said, “No matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.”
·Look for the Counterevidence (find your black swan) - Look for counter-evidence to disprove your negative view. Are there times when you have succeeded? Were there times when you did something right? There are likely more instances where you had successes and things went well. With enough practice, your successes will become your white swans.
·Peer Review – Seek the opinions of others about whether your thoughts and outlooks are accurate. Sometimes we cannot trust our own thoughts, especially if we have a stronger negative filter in place. Sometimes we need the perspectives of others as a reality check.
Here are two free worksheets online that can help you combat negative filtering: