What Is the “Mental Filter?”
Depression occurs for many reasons. A common one is unhelpful thinking patterns — traps that our thoughts can fall into and get stuck in. These are also called cognitive distortions, and the “mental filter” is a common example. The mental filter is like having a screen over your mind that obscures the positive aspects of a situation while letting the negative aspects through.
Consider this example: after a walk in the park with a friend, you think back on the experience. If you think to yourself, “The weather was so nice, and their vacation sounded fun. What a nice time,” you’d probably feel happy and satisfied.
However, if the mental filter was “turned on” and you thought, “The children at the park playground were so loud, and my friend was 20 minutes late meeting me,” you’d likely feel more negatively. Even though both of the above thoughts are about the same time spent in the park, they affect your mood differently.
How Does It Cause Problems?
Cognitive distortions can have a negative impact on your mood. This is because how we think about things influences how we feel. The mental filter can be unhelpful in the following ways:
- The mental filter makes you focus more on negatives than positives. So, over time you can develop an automatic habit of paying attention to negative things more easily, more quickly, and more often.
- Attention on the negative can easily grow into a generally negative or pessimistic outlook on things.
Paying undeserved attention to the negative can bring on unpleasant emotions like sadness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, fear, and others. It can also worsen your mood.
How to Change Your Mental Filter
There’s no foolproof way to get rid of the mental filter or to prevent your thinking from falling into this common trap. But there are many ways to lessen its impact and improve how you feel. For example:
- Building awareness and recognition: if you’re more aware of the mental filter and can notice when it’s shaping your thoughts, you can try to shift your perspective. Mindfulness practice is one effective way to improve this awareness.
- Purposely shift your attention to acknowledge more positives: one way out of the trap of the mental filter is to shift your thinking toward the neutral or positive aspects of a situation.
These changes can be hard to “just do.” Changing how we think and pay attention can definitely be challenging! Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven treatment tools that help to do just that. Reducing the impact of unhelpful thinking patterns, like the mental filter, is one of the most common focuses of CBT. It is helpful in improving mood and treating depression and anxiety. Breaking out of the grip of the mental filter can improve your mood and help you have a more hopeful outlook on things, and working with a CBT therapist can help you do that.
Please reach out to us if negativity and pessimism are creating challenges in your life.