Negative Thinking and Depression #2: Dealing with Persistent Negative Self-Talk

Depression 6 The big 3 Image- 28-2-18

Depression 6 The Big 3

“A discussion of the cognitive distortion of All-or-Nothing Thinking.”


Negative Self-Talk: The Poison Within

I care greatly about reducing depression and anxiety for 2 reasons. First, in my experience, both are significant contributors to weight gain: comfort eating is often the result. Second, I want to see people happy, so helping them find ways to work through their mental struggles is important to me.

Negative self-talk is corrosive. It eats us away slowly from the inside out. It takes away our will to engage in life. It stagnates us. It takes us away from the things that were once so important to us. It disconnects and disengages us, leaving us frustrated, depressed, anxious, and disconnected. We disconnect from ourselves, from others, from life itself all to avoid the pain that comes from merely living.

We have to get rid of it, but how? Today we’ll look at the most common negative thought patterns, and we’ll learn what to do with them.


The “Big 3”

In my last blog I described the 10 “Cognitive Distortions” of CBT. I explained that I believe that these thinking patterns are at the base of most of our anxiety and depression. What we need, then, is a way of rationally answering these wayward thought patterns so that we no longer suffer emotionally because of them.

There are 3 distortions that I call “The Big 3.” These are the ones that seem to appear most often in the work that I do. I want to look at each one in a bit more detail and offer a workable solutions for each.


Who Am I?

My name is Mike MacKinnon, and I’m a personal trainer in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. I serve the Greater Toronto area and beyond, offering 1-on-1 personal training, as well as online training programs. I am also a life coach and weight loss coach, offering both face-to-face coaching, as well as distance coaching via phone or Skype.


Distortion #1: All-or-Nothing Thinking

You tend to see things in absolute, black-and-white categories. Words like “always” or “never” often accompany this distortion: “This always happens to me,” or “I never do well on my exams.” It rears its head when we go off our eating plan, for example, and then say to ourselves “Oh forget it. What’s the use? I’ll just eat whatever I want until Monday morning, then get back on plan.” We “Throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

The solution? A technique called “Thinking in Shades of Grey.” Instead of looking at our problem in extremes, we try to evaluate them on a scale of 1 to 10. I went off my eating plan, ok…how bad is that, really? Is it 10/10 bad, or is it more like 2/10 or 3/10 bad? Realistically it’s more like 2-3/10, so I can give myself a break, take a few deep breaths, and get back on track.

This is clearly a better solution over deciding to binge-eat for the next 2 or 3 days. That would make the problem worse, more like a 7-8/10.


Distortion #2: Jumping to Conclusions (Fortune-Telling and Mind-Reading)

Fortune-Telling is a form of playing God, thinking I know how to predict the future. I am arbitrarily predicting a bad outcome for something I’m involved in. Mind-reading is when I’m assuming that you’re thinking bad thoughts about me, even though I have no evidence to the contrary.

I see Fortune-Telling often when people base the probability that they’ll successfully lose weight on how well they’ve done with losing weight in the past. They say, “I’ve lost and gained it back 100 times; why should it be any different this time?”

The solution for Fortune-Telling is to “Examine the Evidence.” Look at the things you’ve been able to successfully overcome in the past – difficult things – and base your chance of success on those experiences. If you’re trying something different this time vis-à-vis losing your weight, you have a good fighting chance. To retry something you’ve failed at many times in the past, well, you have good reason for believing that it won’t work. Stories abound of people who failed time and time again, and yet finally succeeded. Why not you? Google “Abraham Lincoln Failures” and see what you come up with 😊.

The solution for Mind-Reading is called “The Survey Method.” Go and ask the person you think is upset with you whether they are. In many – if not most – cases, you’ll find they aren’t at all angry. You’ll discover that it’s just in your head.


Distortion #3: Labelling

Labelling is where I attribute to myself negative descriptors such as “Loser,” “Weak,” “Dumb,” “Stupid,” “Lazy,” and the like. I’m identifying with what I see as my shortcomings. Clients will often engage in this kind of self-talk when they have a slip in their eating. It’s not uncommon for them to call themselves nasty names, because they believe they are a failure.

The solution? A technique called “Defining Terms.” If you’re calling yourself a “failure,” for example, then come up with a definition for what that means. Remember, however, that definition must apply to all who fail everywhere. Inevitably you’ll find you can’t find a uniform definition that works for all situations.

You can also use the Survey Method. Ask your friends if they think you’re a failure. Inevitably they’ll share with you all the ways they believe that you’re a success.

You can also use the “Double-Standard” method. Ask yourself how you’d speak to a friend who was struggling they way you are, and then make a conscious choice to talk to yourself that way.


Be Kind to Yourself

These efforts are all designed to help you learn how to be kinder to yourself. What’s the point in beating yourself up? It doesn’t help! It doesn’t motivate you to be better, it only makes you feel worse, which leads to more depression.

Why not try doing it differently from now on in? Treat yourself as you’d treat a best friend struggling through an issue. Realize that you can’t read minds, nor can you predict the future. And why not try a more positive approach. Try not expecting the worst to happen, or believing that people are thinking only bad things about you. Try to assume that things will be good, and that others think good things of you. Assume the best, and deal with the worst ONLY if it happens.

If you think you might need help shifting your thinking patterns, I’m available to work with you. Give me a call at 647-677-6025 or e-mail me at Alternately, you can fill out this form to reach me:

In the weeks to come, we’ll look at more cognitive distortions, and how to overcome them. In the meantime, try to apply what I’m sharing with you here, and let me know if it makes a difference. I’d love to hear from you!