Sometimes we are warned not to believe everything we read. Other times we are warned not to believe everything we hear. With AI-generated images, we are learning not to believe everything we see. But we aren’t reminded nearly as often to question our own thought processes—to remember not to believe everything we think.
It’s natural to assume that whatever thoughts or ideas come into our minds are true and accurate pictures of reality. Sometimes we may even believe that our thoughts are being given to us by God. And while that no doubt can happen sometimes, at other times our thoughts can feel true—and even begin to affect our lives as if they are true—and yet, they may be completely false.
In 2021, the US Surgeon General declared that teens are in a mental health epidemic, and not a lot has changed in the years since. The most recent large national survey found that more than 1 in 3 students were experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Smaller, more recent studies have concluded that 33.7% of young adults 18-to-25 are experiencing mental health issues—a higher percentage than any other generation.
There are many factors contributing to this epidemic, but one that’s often been overlooked has to do with the actual health of our thinking. For the purposes of this course, we’ll define thoughts as the inner reflections of our minds, which we use to process and interpret the events and feelings of our lives. And not all thoughts are created equal. Some thoughts are healthy, because they are in alignment with the world as it really is. (In a word: reality.) Other thoughts and patterns of thinking are considered “cognitive distortions.”
These distortions can bend and blur reality in ways that harm our perception of risk, degrade our self-esteem, magnify our fears, and make us suspicious of others—among many other things. (For more information on how cognitive distortions are having a real-world impact on how an entire generation sees the world, we recommend “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt).
In this short course, we want to help dismantle seven of the most common cognitive distortions:
- Emotional reasoning
- Black-and-white thinking
- Mind reading
- Negative filtering
We’ll show why each of these is a distortion, and bring biblical truth to bear on them all. We’ll then share a tool that anyone can use to help reduce the effects of these distortions, leading to better mental health. Our goal in this course is to help you learn to recognize distorted and harmful patterns of thinking in your own life, lean into biblical wisdom to disrupt these patterns, and to equip and empower you to share these strategies with others.