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Michael Gardon

  • Writer's pictureMichael Gardon

11 Cognitive Distortions Crushing Your Potential - The Break Issue 41

Updated: Mar 13

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Today At A Glance

  • The only thing holding us back from having the life we want is the errors in how we view our own reality

  • These errors are called Cognitive Distortions in psychology

  • Understanding them and mitigating them is key to making better decisions, being happier and having better relationships

  • Read to the end to find a helpful tool I've used to get over my own distortions

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Crush These Thinking Errors To Reach Your Potential

I’m fascinated with how we can be so evolved, smart and so capable, yet continuously limit our abilities.

Our minds are the only governors limiting our potential, the quality of our relationships and the quality of our judgements.

And so many of us (me included) haven’t reached our potential because of the irrationality by which we see ourselves.

Many of us spend our early career thinking we aren’t ready/worthy/good enough/smart enough/experienced enough, only to realize a decade later that it’s all in our heads.

We shoulda started sooner.

We shoulda listened to our inner voice.

Those that never listen to that voice wake up at 85 with huge regrets like “"I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

Lets not do that.

Our self-limiting thoughts tend to come from our inability to see reality, and weight events properly. By weight, I mean assign the proper amount of importance to the situation, event, characteristic or whatever is happening.

For example, a boss sends you a quick email that you interpret as gruff. You start to think your boss doesn’t like your work, and you spend the rest of the day spun up about it, and start to think you are not good at your job. In reality, your boss was at his son’s doctor appointment and quickly blasting through emails to get caught up.

These “errors” in thinking are called Cognitive Distortions in psychology. There’s an entire subdiscipline called Decision Psychology dedicated to thinking errors, biases and cognitive distortions. Besides psychologists, investors are at the forefront of understanding these distortions.

Why? Because if they deal better with their cognitive distortions, they make better judgements and make more money.

This is why I incorporate so much of Investment analysis and investment psychology in my work around career. There’s a lot to learn.

The 11 Biggest cognitive Distortions to Guard Against

Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that can influence your emotions. Everyone experiences cognitive distortions to some degree, but in their more extreme forms they can be harmful.

For example, research shows that most people who suffer from anxiety or depression are more on the pessimistic scale. Pessimists, as it turns out, are more prone to cognitive distortions.

The good news is that by understanding these distortions, you can hack them and improve every aspect of your life, especially your ability to see your own capabilities.

If you consider yourself a pessimist (as I once did), hacking your cognitive distortions is your path to being more optimistic, resilient and happier.

Which leads to more trust and confidence in yourself to take bolder action, listen to your heart and your head, and persevere along your path when times get hard.

Buzz through these 11 cognitive distortions, and read to the end to learn a little trick that has helped me overcome many of them.

Magnification and Minimization:

Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their mistakes are excessively important.

Example: A student earns an A on a difficult exam but focuses only on the one question they got wrong, feeling like a failure.


Seeing only the worst possible outcome of a situation.

Example: A person assumes they will fail a job interview and won't get hired, even though they have the qualifications and experience.


Making broad interpretations form a single or a few events. "I felt awkward during my job interview. I am always so awkward."

Example: After a bad first date, a person assumes that all dates will be bad and gives up on dating altogether.


The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control. "My mom is always upset. She would be fine if I did more to help her."

Example: A person thinks that their friend's bad mood is their fault because they didn't do enough to cheer them up.

Jumping to Conclusions:

Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence.

Example: A person assumes that their partner is cheating on them because they saw them talking to someone of the opposite sex at a party.

Mind Reading:

Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence. "She would not go on a date with me. She probably thinks I'm ugly."

Example: A person assumes that their boss thinks they're incompetent because they haven't received any positive feedback recently.

Fortune Telling:

The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without adequate evidence.

Example: A person assumes that they will fail a job interview before even going into it, based solely on their own self-doubt.

Emotional Reasoning:

The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are. "I feel like a bad friend, therefore I must be a bad friend."

Example: A person feels guilty about taking a day off work, so they assume that their coworkers are angry with them for not being there.

Disqualifying the Positive:

Recognizing only the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive. One might receive many compliments on an evaluation, but focus on the single piece of negative feedback.

Example: A person receives a positive performance review at work but only focuses on the one area where they need improvement.

"Should" Statements:

The belief that things should be a certain way. "I should always be friendly."

Example: A person thinks they should never make mistakes and beat themselves up when they do.

All-or-Nothing Thinking:

Thinking in absolutes such as "always", "never", or "every". "I never do a good enough job on anything."

Example: A person thinks they're a total failure because they made one mistake at work, ignoring all the times they've succeeded.

Overcoming Cognitive Distortions to Thrive

The great news is our mental frameworks aren’t fixed, they can be changed with the right tools.

To help people overcome depression for instance, therapists use many journaling techniques.

The Thought Log is a simple journal exercise to help you recognize, label and reframe your cognitive distortions. Over the course of a week or two, when you have a negative thought, you log

  1. Event that happened

  2. Your thought

  3. Consequence, feeling or behavior

  4. The Cognitive Distortion

  5. Reframe - basically a rational counter-statement for what happened that is more likely.

Check out the example below:

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

P.S. I actually do this exercise!

P.P.S. Steal my thought log template here !

See you again next week.

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What’s happening on the pod?

For those of us who have zig-zagged our careers, we often feel misplaced, misunderstood, and feel like we come across as scattered. But the truth is there’s magic in our intersections, and the key is excavating the unique value that comes from your intersection.

This has worked wonders for me as I now describe my own intersection as a coach who uses principles from human-centered design, investing, and entrepreneurship to help people unlock creative career paths that make them come alive.

My next guest says instead of shunning your disparate interests, embrace them and learn to live a Portfolio Life. HMMM, that portfolio phrase is something I very much ascribe to!

A self-described “human Venn diagram”, Christina Wallace has crafted a career at the intersection of business, technology, and the arts. She is currently a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, where she teaches entrepreneurship and marketing. Her most recent book is The Portfolio Life: How to Future-Proof Your Career, Avoid Burnout, and Build a Life Bigger Than Your Business Card (Hachette, 2023).

A serial entrepreneur, Christina has built businesses in ecommerce, edtech, and media. She also co-authored New To Big: How Companies Can Create Like Entrepreneurs, Invest Like VCs, and Install a Permanent Operating System for Growth (Penguin Random House, 2019) and was the co-host of The Limit Does Not Exist, an iHeart podcast with millions of downloads over 3 seasons and 125 episodes.

In her free time, she sings with various chamber choirs, embarks on adventure travel, and is a mediocre endurance athlete. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two children.

You made it to the end! Hopefully you learned something about breaking your career today! If so, please share this with someone you care about.

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