"Overgeneralising" means arbitrarily concluding that one (unpleasant) thing that has happened to you once will occur over and over again.
A shy young man musters up the courage to ask a girl for a date, but she politely declines because of an already-planned engagement. He says to himself, "I'm never going to get a date. No girl would ever want a date with me. I'll be lonely and miserable all my life".
In his distorted cognitions, the young man concludes that because she turned him down once, she would always do so, and that since all women have 100 per cent identical tastes, he would be endlessly and repeatedly rejected by any eligible woman on the face of the earth!
Techniques for 'un-distoring'
The following techniques are suggested by Robert Leahy:
- Rate the degree of your belief and identity and rate your emotions
- Identify exactly what you predict about your own (or another person's) behaviour
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
a. Do you think that overgeneralising will motivate you?
b. Do you think that overgeneralising is being realistic?
c. How would your thinking, behaviour, and feelings change if you didn't overgeneralise?
- Examine evidence for and against your overgeneralising.
- What is the quality of the evidence that supports your belief of "This is always happening"?
- What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? Are you using negative filters, labelling, or discounting positives?
- How could you prove that your thought is wrong? Is it testable?
- Are there situations when this [behaviour, outcome, emotion, etc.] is not happening? How would you describe these situations?
- Would everyone see things this way? Why not?
- Keep track of the positives (or the other person's positives) every day for a week. What does this record tell you?
- Every time you or someone else does a positive, praise yourself or the person. Will this praise increase or decrease the positive behaviour?
- Try mindfulness rather than judging. Focus only on describing what has happened without using any words of judgments. Avoid using words such as always and never — for example, "He's always like that" or "I'm never going to succeed." Focus only on behaviour that you can observe — for example, "He was driving fast" — and on how you felt — "I felt nervous." Stay in the present moment. How does this feel?
- Imagine you are looking down from a balcony on what is happening, and you must describe what you see to a stranger. Exactly what would you say is being said and done?