Cognitive distortions: The patterns that amplify sufferingMar 20, 2022
Are you living the life you choose?
If you are like me, you haven’t asked yourself this in a long time.
It never occurred to me to ask this question until two years ago. Having worked so hard to reach the goals of becoming a physician and starting a family, it was so hard to admit that I had “buyer’s remorse.” I was a burned-out doctor living a privileged life, and I believed I was a horrible mother.
And my answer was “no.” No, I wasn’t living the life I choose. In that moment of realization, I felt like a victim and as though life was happening to me not for/with me.
Why?? Somewhere along the journey I had concluded that where the journey started is where it must end. But the idea of living this same life until retirement was sickening. I believed I had no choices and leaned into the narrative that my life was fixed and never changing. My journey was a loop straight out of Groundhog’s Day—broadly homogeneous and ever-repeating with some intra-day variations.
Everyone on the outside would look at my life and think I’d be singing “everything is awesome” from the Lego Movie.
I experienced two prevalent cognitive distortions which enhanced my suffering. I woke up every morning with pure dread. I held the expectation that this day would be like all the others; this day would suck. I then went to work and sure enough, the day sucked. I held a deeply rooted belief that every day would be horrible, and I only found evidence to confirm that throughout my day. Were there good moments to my day? Yes, but my brain only gave airtime to the negative parts.
This scenario perfectly represents confirmation bias—the brain gives the most airtime to the information that upholds a deeply rooted belief. The brain also ignores the information that might challenge that core belief and the world is experienced through a polarizing lens.
As is true with many healthcare professionals, I missed important children’s events—birthdays, parent-teacher conferences, and so many opportunities to foster relationships with parents of my children’s friends. I vividly remember the day I went to pick up my then toddler from pre-school midway through the school year only to be carded. They had seen me so infrequently; they didn’t realize I was his mother. Cue the horrible mom shame. I intentionally use shame here though I experienced guilt as well. Guilt is born out of the idea of wrongdoing. Shame takes it a step further and is rooted in the idea of unworthiness. Yes indeed, I felt unworthy to be a mother.
Did my brain give airtime to all the nights I stayed up with a sick child, to how hard I worked to breastfeed for a year during residency, or to the sheer amount of how much I loved those children and how hard I worked to safely bring my two boys into the world? No! No, it didn’t. This confirmation bias then provoked the second cognitive distortion—catastrophizing. Because I couldn’t register the bigger picture, the day I was carded was the day that I decided I was a horrible mother. I jumped to the worst possible conclusion without true big picture evidence to support it. The school didn’t know me and in response I found myself guilty of being a bad and unworthy mother.
Career and life burnout drove me to life coaching and to finally seeing that I did in fact have choices. When I realized the tool was available, I chose differently.
The journey to the life I choose has taken time and purposeful steps and is ongoing. Sheer willpower did not get me on this path. Willpower burns hot and fast but dies quickly.
Commitment DID get me on this path.
Commitment that is so unshakeable that the discomfort of pursuing change isn’t phasing me.
Commitment to myself that I deserve to feel better.
Commitment to myself that I am worthy of creating and living the life I choose.
As I define it today, the life I choose is a life that not only cultivates a state of well-being but also preserves it EVEN during times of stress. It is a flexible and growth oriented life rooted in constant revision and innovation. I’m determined more now than ever that humans are not designed for stasis. The joy truly is in the journey, and in the life I choose, the journey is never ending.
Are you living the life you choose? If your answer is no, what’s holding you back? By default, we all live by a personalized manual. Herein we define our personal expectations of self and how we secure approval, acceptance, love, and connection. If your manual thereby determines your own approval of self, I argue that your manual is not serving you. If you need permission, then again, I hereby give it. Burn your manual!
What does the life you choose look like? The journey of 1000 steps, only starts with one step. If you're not ready to take massive action, that's ok! Just take one small step consistently. The path to the life you choose is uniquely yours filled with limitless potential. Forge, innovate, and revise the path as you go along. Dream a little dream with me….
I created a free workbook to help you get started forging your path.
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