This was one of the “Mindfultainment” programs, which were a failed blend of entertainment and mindfulness during the earlier days of the Eureka Room.
The Cognitive Distortions program was probably the most psychologically based program, borrowing heavily from the field of cognitive behavioral therapy and incorporating ideas from books like Feeling Good and those by Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology.
What is Cognitive Therapy?
Cognitive Therapy focuses on your present thinking rather than past experiences. The idea that many of your emotions are the results of your thinking. If you can manage your thoughts then you can manage your emotions. There’s been lots of evidence to show this can be effective in treating all kinds of problems like anxiety, depression, panic, and fear.
Cognitive distortions are the distorted thoughts we have. It’s when we jump to conclusions or when we make a mountain out of what is really a molehill. If you can better assess a situation and manage your thoughts about it you’ll make fewer jumps and mountains.
I’ve found this works amazingly well for me. I journal my problems out a lot, writing down all the stuff that is on my mind, bothering me, making me anxious, mad, depressed, etc. Then I go back and examine each sentence almost as if I was someone who was paid to be sceptical of these sentences and ask things like “Is that the ONLY thing she might have meant by saying that?” or “You’ve handled things like this a hundred times before. You got through it then and you’ll get through it now”.
Sounds Fun, Right?
Of course not. This is not fun stuff. It’s facing your fears and anxieties and then mustering the courage to be someone else to talk some sense into yourself. This is not fun at all.
So I thought: Let’s make it fun! And I made a Eureka Room program out of the concept.
And it was not fun. There was almost no fun involved. The concept was impermeable to fun. I put in some handmade goofy drawings (because they make the other programs fun). But when a goofy MicrosoftPaint drawing is asking you to face your anxieties, it’s hard to take it seriously. In fact it seems almost mocking at points.
There were other problems making this program as well.
I wasn’t a subject matter expert on cognitive distortions. Indeed, it’s questionable if I might have had to be licensed to offer such counsel. I might be breaking some federal laws.
But at the time I wasn’t worried about being arrested. I was more concerned with how to take concepts that weren’t homegrown out of my mind and merge them with my own sensibilities.
The concepts weren’t something you could explain quickly and examples were needed. And to be effective, participants would need some quiet time to contemplate and write.
I had been trying to keep programs under 15 minutes, but as this one hit 15 minutes there was no space left for fun even if I could figure out how to make it fun. Which, as I already have said, I couldn’t.
I canned it 80% of the way there on the video and before the audio was even started. I had spent probably 100 hours on it and decided to cut my losses.
No one ever saw it.
Would you like a quick walk through of this never before seen program?
I’ll give you some of the highlights.
Program Outline (Featuring Very Serious-Minded Drawings)
It begins with this message in high quality font:
I had intended to replace the handwriting with a nice title. But honestly this weird font was about as fun as it got.
Then you see a sad blob that is supposed to be you:
After a quick intro about how everyone has thoughts that aren’t helping them, you are invited to write your anxious/fearful/ thoughts down.
You were given all of 12 seconds to do that. (SO I hope you’re not too anxious.)
Then it explains that experiencing adversities in life is normal and that:
Then it gives you examples of different anxieties.
Then: A strobing flash of some colors for a few seconds. (I guess this was the fun part?)
Next, an explanation of the difference between pain and suffering. I think this is the best part of the program. I hadn’t heard cognitive distortions explained in quite this way (perhaps because it’s incorrect?) but to me I felt like I had come up with a novel way to explain what’s happening:
The main idea here is that adversity happens (I take the word “Adversity from Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism).
There are FACTS about the adversity and there are THOUGHTS about the adversity. You screw up at work and the project is late. That is a fact and it results is sadness or disappointment (assuming you care about your work). but at the same time you also have thoughts about screwing up at work. Maybe you are worried you will lose your job. That anxiety is suffering. If you feel it physically like grief then that’s healthy. If your head hurts and you just feel a generalized anxiety, then that’s from distorted thinking.
(Note: I am not a licensed therapist. I am a guy that owns a room with 14000 LEDs.)
You can’t avoid the pain but you can avoid the suffering if you keep your thoughts in check and talk back to the distorted ones.
So then I introduce the “smart friend”. It’s you. It’s the you that cares about you and will take his red pen and cross out incorrect thoughts.
Yes. I know that also looks like a bloody knife. Coincidence. I think.
He (aka you) walks you through 8 of the most common problems:
Then you are given various examples and have to guess which distortion is happening:
Then your angry friend (you) who has just grown a unibrow reminds you of the point again:
Then you are invited to go back and review what you wrote at the beginning of the program and identify the distortions and write (not just think in your head) what you would say to yourself with your new unibrow.
After that there’s a short ending and you’re left to your own devices to find the fun.
- It’s not that I don’t think the program was bad. It just wasn’t fun. And I don’t think there was a way to make it fun because it’s really hard to have fun when you are digging into your fears. In fact, digging into your anxiety might be the exact definition of NOT fun. I’m keeping this around and maybe some day I can find a home for a revised version of it in another project.
- It takes a lot more work to take an established concept in a domain that I’m an amateur in and make it my own than it does to create things out of whole cloth from areas I’m comfortable and familiar with.
- Maybe the most important thing I learned was this: I don’t want to traffic in serious emotions all day. I enjoy working on overcoming my own adversities, but I don’t like doing it all day. And I think I’d really struggle making it successful for other people in just a short 15-minute program.
- Goofy pictures don’t make a serious situation better.