Feeling Good by David D. Burns8 min read

Categories Personal growthPosted on

All your moods are created by your thoughts.

When you’re depressed, your thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity.

The negative thoughts which cause your depression nearly always contain gross, cognitive distortions.

TheFive Big Ideas

  • “Everybad feeling you have is the result of your distorted negative thinking.”
  • “Yourthoughts create your emotions; therefore, your emotions cannot prove that yourthoughts are accurate.”
  • “Everybad feeling you have is the result of your distorted negative thinking.”
  • “Yourfeelings result from the meaning you give to the event, not from the eventitself.”
  • “YouAre Wrong in Your Belief That Suicide Is the Only Solution or the Best Solutionto Your Problem.”

Feeling Good Summary

“The first principle of cognitive therapy is that all your moods are created by your ‘cognitions’, or thoughts.”

“The second principle is that when you are feeling depressed, your thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity.”

“The third principle is of substantial philosophical and therapeutic importance. Our research has documented that the negative thoughts which cause your emotional turmoil nearly always contain gross distortions.”

“Every bad feeling you have is the result of your distorted negative thinking.”

“Every time you feel depressed about something, try to identify a corresponding negative thought you had just prior to and during the depression. Because these thoughts have actually created your bad mood, by learning to restructure them, you can change your mood.”

Cognitive Distortions: A Complete List

(Note from Sam: To learn more about cognitive distortions and how to overcome them, read this article.)

All-or-Nothing Thinking. “This refers to your tendency to evaluate your personal qualities in extreme, black-or-white categories. All-or-nothing thinking forms the basis for perfectionism. It causes you to fear any mistake or imperfection because you will then see yourself as a complete loser, and you will feel inadequate and worthless. The technical name for this type of perceptual error is ‘dichotomous thinking.’”

Overgeneralization. “You arbitrarily conclude that one thing that happened to you once will occur over and over again, will multiply like the Jack of Spades. The pain of rejection is generated almost entirely from overgeneralization.”

Mental Filter. “You pick out a negative detail in any situation and dwell on it exclusively, thus perceiving that the whole situation is negative. The technical name for this process is ‘selective abstraction.’”

Disqualifying the Positive. “An even more spectacular mental illusion is the persistent tendency of some depressed individuals to transform neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones. Disqualifying the positive is one of the most destructive forms of cognitive distortion.”

Jumping to Conclusions. “You arbitrarily jump to a negative conclusion that is not justified by the facts of the situation.”

Two examples of jumping to conclusions are “mind reading” and “the fortune teller error.”

Mind Reading. “You make the assumption that other people are looking down on you, and you’re so convinced about this that you don’t even bother to check it out.”

Fortune Telling. “You imagine that something bad is about to happen, and you take this prediction as a fact even though it is unrealistic.”

Magnification. “Magnification commonly occurs when you look at your own errors, fears, or imperfections and exaggerate their importance: ‘My God—I made a mistake. How terrible! How awful! The word will spread like wildfire! My reputation is ruined!’ This has also been called ‘catastrophizing’ because you turn commonplace negative events into nightmarish monsters.”

Minimization. “You inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the ‘binocular trick.’”

Emotional Reasoning. “You take your emotions as evidence for the truth. Your logic: ‘I feel like a dud, therefore I am a dud’. This kind of reasoning is misleading because your feelings reflect your thoughts and beliefs.”

Should Statements. “You try to motivate yourself by saying, “I should do this” or “I must do that.’”

Labeling and Mislabeling. “Personal labeling means creating a completely negative self-image based on your errors. Mislabeling involves describing an event with words that are inaccurate and emotionally heavily loaded.”

Personalization. “This distortion is the mother of guilt! You assume responsibility for a negative event when there is no basis for doing so.”

“Your thoughts create your emotions; therefore, your emotions cannot prove that your thoughts are accurate.”

Dr. Aaron Beck said a depressed self-image can be characterized by the four D’s: You feel Defeated, Defective, Deserted, and Deprived.

“At the bottom line, only your own sense of self-worth determines how you feel.”

Specific Methods for Boosting Self-Esteem

Talk Back to That Internal Critic!

Train yourself to recognize and write down the self-critical thoughts as they go through your mind.

Learn why these thoughts are distorted

Practice talking back to them so as to develop a more realistic self-evaluation system.

The Triple-Column Technique

The Triple Column Technique

Ask yourself, “What thoughts are going through my mind right now? What am I saying to myself? Why is this upsetting me?”

“When you are down on yourself, you might find it helpful to ask what you actually mean when you try to define your true identity with a negative label such as ‘a fool’, ‘a sham’, ‘a stupid dope’, etc. Once you begin to pick these destructive labels apart, you will find they are arbitrary and meaningless. They actually cloud the issue, creating confusion and despair. Once rid of them, you can define and cope with any real problems that exist.”

Three Crucial Steps When You Are Upset

Zero in on those automatic negative thoughts and write them down.

Read over the list of ten cognitive distortions. Learn precisely how you are twisting things and blowing them out of proportion.

Substitute a more objective thought that puts the lie to the one which made you look down on yourself.

“Whether your critic is right or wrong, initially find some way to agree with him or her.”

“Your feelings result from the meaning you give to the event, not from the event itself.”

“Irrational should statements rest on your assumption that you are entitled to instant gratification at all times.”

The following two guidelines will help you to determine when your anger is productive and when it is not.

Is my anger directed toward someone who has knowingly, intentionally, and unnecessarily acted in a hurtful manner?

Is my anger useful? Does it help me achieve the desired goal or does it simply defeat me?

“If you have a ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ rule that has been causing you disappointment and frustration, rewrite it in more realistic terms.”

“You will notice that the substitution of one word—‘it would be nice if’ in place of ‘should’—can be a useful first step.”

“The rationale for eliminating your ‘should’ statement is simple: It’s not true that you are entitled to get what you want just because you want it.”

“Remorse or regret are aimed at behavior, whereas guilt is targeted toward the ‘self.’”

“Sadness is a normal emotion created by realistic perceptions that describe a negative event involving loss or disappointment in an undistorted way. Depression is an illness that always results from thoughts that are distorted in some way.”

“When a genuinely negative event occurs, your emotions will be created exclusively by your thoughts and perceptions. Your feelings will result from the meaning you attach to what happens. A substantial portion of your suffering will be due to the distortions in your thoughts. When you eliminate these distortions, you will find that coping with the ‘real problem’ will become less painful.”

“Although your distorted negative thoughts will be substantially reduced or entirely eliminated after you have recovered from a bout of depression, there are certain “silent assumptions” that probably still lurk in your mind. These silent assumptions explain in large part why you became depressed in the first place and can help you predict when you might again be vulnerable.”

“A silent assumption is an equation with which you define your personal worth. It represents your value system, your personal philosophy, the stuff on which you base your self-esteem.”

“Choose any activity, and instead of aiming for 100 percent, try for 80 percent, 60 percent, or 40 percent. Then see how much you enjoy the activity and how productive you become.”

“You Are Wrong in Your Belief That Suicide Is the Only Solution or the Best Solution to Your Problem.”

“When you think that you are trapped and hopeless, your thinking is illogical, distorted, and skewed.”

“Nihilism is the belief that there is no truth or meaning to anything, and that all of life involves suffering and agony.”

“Nearly all suicidal patients have in common an illogical sense of hopelessness and the conviction they are facing an insoluble dilemma. Once you expose the distortions in your thinking, you will experience considerable emotional relief.”

“Your feelings of hopelessness and total despair are just symptoms of depressive illness, not facts.”

“I let the following rule of thumb guide me: Patients who feel hopeless never actually are hopeless.”


If you like Feeling Good, you may also enjoy the following books:

Awaken The Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny by Anthony Robbins

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor

Notes From a Friend by Anthony Robbins

Buy The Book: Feeling Good

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