191: How to Crush Negative Thoughts: Mental Filter / Discounting the Positive

This is the fourth in our podcasts series on the best techniques to crush each of the ten cognitive distortions from my book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Today, we focus on Mental Filtering and Discounting the Positive. (This will be the last Episode recorded remotely with poor sound quality.  We thank  you for your perseverance listening to it, and guarantee better sound quality in the future with our new recording equipment.)

  1. Mental Filtering, You focus on something(s) negative, like a mistake you made, and ignore or overlook the positives. This is like the drop of ink that discolors the beaker of water.
  2. Discounting the Positive(s). this is an even more spectacular mental error. You insist that the positives about yourself or others don’t count.  In this way, you can maintain a uniformly and totally negative view of yourself, the world, or other people.

David and Rhonda discuss the fact that humans can be very biased in our perceptions of things that are emotionally charged. For example, if you are firmly committed to some belief, you might look for evidence that supports your belief, and discount evidence that contradicts your belief.

Similarly, if there is someone you strongly admire, you may selectively focus on the positive things they do or say, and discount or dismiss things they do or say that might be quite offensive. And when you’re ticked off at somebody, you probably focus on all the things they do or say that turn you off (mental filtering) and discount the positive things that they do or say. For example, when they say something kind or supportive, you might think, “S/he doesn’t mean it,” or “isn’t being genuine. They’re just acting fake.” In this way, you convince yourself that he or she really is “bad.”

When you’re depressed or anxious, you’ll do this to yourself as well, thus intensifying your negative thoughts and feelings. For example, a teenager with extremely intense depression, strong suicidal urges, and anger told me that human beings were inherently selfish, insensitive, and bad. When I asked her how she’d come to this conclusion, she described seeing some kids in her dormitory who were joking in a cruel, insensitive way about girl with depression, and said that if you’re looking for her, you can probably find her sitting on the edge of her dormitory window, meaning that she’s probably about to jump.

She also described seeing a homeless man on her way her therapy session, and said that no one really cared about him. Of course, these observations were at least partially valid, since human beings certainly DO have the capacity for great self-contentedness, insensitivity, and cruelty. But was she involved in Mental Filtering, and focusing only on the negatives?

I asked her if she could think of any times in the past several weeks when someone had been cruel or insensitive to her. She couldn’t think of a single instance.

David and Rhonda provide additional examples, some personal, of Mental Filtering and Discounting the Positive, and suggest techniques that can be helpful when combating these distortions, including Positive Reframing, Examine the Evidence, the Straightforward Technique, and Double Standard Technique.

David tells a moving story that he also told on his Tedx talk in Reno, about an elderly Latvian immigrant who made a suicide attempt because she thought she’d never accomplished anything worthwhile or meaningful.

In the next podcast in this series, David and Rhonda will discuss the TEAM-CBT techniques that can especially helpful for the next distortion, Jumping to Conclusions.

David D. Burns, MD / Rhonda Barovsky, PsyD


You can reach Dr. Burns at Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and specializes in TEAM-CBT for depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. She can be reached at

Today’s featured photo is courtesy of Nancy Mueller–

If you like our jingle music and would like to support the composer Brett Van Donsel, you may download it here.


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This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great. It will be released in September of 2020, but you will soon be able to pre-order it on Amazon, possibly by the time you read this! 

Need Training or CE Credits?

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The Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit:
How to Crush Negative Thoughts

With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt

May 17, 2020 | 7 CE hours. $135 (online only)

TEAM-CBT includes more than 100 powerful techniques to change the distorted thoughts that trigger negative emotions. But what techniques should I select for my patient who feels depressed, anxious, or angry?

As you know, in my book, Feeling Good, I listed the ten most common cognitive distortions, like All-or-Nothing Thinking, Should Statements, Emotional Reasoning, and more, and you probably use that list all the time in your clinical work. But do you know which techniques work the best for each distortion?

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June 4 – 5, 2020, Seattle, Washington

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December Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference

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Details TBA