The Risk of COVID Cognitive Distortions

I have been struck in several recent conversations by how clever our minds are at deceiving us, warping reality to fit our preconceived notions of what kind of people we believe ourselves to be. These cognitive distortions are dangerous when it comes to the spread of COVID.

On one hand, people feel they are behaving responsibly and claim they are doing a great job of following safety protocols to reduce their risk of contracting or transmitting COVID. However, in the next moment, they report on recent outings that are clearly contrary to the safety protocols. More importantly, they seem not to notice the dissociation. Our egos are so good at rationalizing any potential slip-ups to keep us feeling righteous. But, in doing so, they put us, our loved ones and others at risk.

In one such conversation a friend shared with me her and her family’s diligence in wearing masks and social distancing, while also reporting being bewildered by the fact that several members of her immediate and extended family had contracted COVID. I had witnessed on social media multiple instances of potential exposures, so was less surprised than she.

What makes us feel so invincible? Why is it so hard for us to change our behavior to fit the need of the hour?

Habit, for sure. We’re used to spending time with friends and family without masks. The tradition of gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas are long-standing and, for some, unquestionably required events.

But, I think these cognitive distortions are bigger culprits in putting us at risk. We think, “just this one get-together, “just with this one other family,” “just this one short weekend get-away,” or “I’m sure this person has been safe like me and is fine to spend time with indoors.” We rationalize anything that is potentially risky, and distort ourselves into believing that we’re being safe. And, COVID flourishes .

I was frustrated this morning reading about a gay circuit party happening in Puerto Vallarta this weekend for NYE. With the Puerto Vallarta hospitals at 100% capacity and cases rising across the US, who would think it a good idea to fly to a huge dance party with hundreds of strangers without social-distancing protocols? It could be another super-spreader event like the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota.

Was this newsletter meant to cheer you up and help you feel more hopeful for 2021? Well, I’m not doing a good job of that. But, hopefully it invites you to be mindful of how your mind is also playing tricks on you. This is a human brain problem, not something specific to a subgroup of careless, thoughtless people.

What are you rationalizing as safe? What are you ignoring to feel okay about your activities? What distortions are tricking you into feeling like you’re being a good global citizen?

I know it’s easy to judge the actions of others, like the anti-maskers and the Rona ravers. But, more helpful is to see the seeds of their behaviors that are also in you. Instead of us vs. them; try a more accurate, we.

I’ll be exploring mindful ways of coping with COVID in two workshops coming this month (details below). I look forward to seeing you all soon in 2021.

May You Be Safe. May You Find Peace.

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