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The “Funhouse Mirror” Test: How to Spot and Fix Distorted Thinking Patterns That Are Holding You Back

In the face of injuries or setbacks, experts say we can often fall into distorted thinking patterns. Asking yourself this one question can help you paint a more accurate reflection.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a series that explores the psychology of “rebounding” from setbacks in life, and provides four mental skills that you can use to help sharpen your response to injuries or other disappointment. 

There’s no doubt about it: Getting hurt sucks. It’s painful, of course, but it also involves far more than muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments—it’s a full-body physical, mental, and emotional experience. And it’s often the mindset to which you approach the disappointment that will determine how quickly and successfully you bounce back.

Experts have long studied the psychological impact of injuries and other life setbacks, and through their research and work with athletes, they have identified mental skills and tools that can help anyone build more strength and resiliency in the face of any challenge.

In our book Rebound: Train Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger From Sports Injuries, we provide 15 essential mental skills for injury recovery—plus hundreds of stories and interviews with athletes who have been there—to help you chart a more positive comeback. This is one of those simple skills you can put into action right now.

Mindset to Master: Seeing Through the Funhouse Mirror

When you go to the county fair or carnival, they’re a steadfast attraction. Stand in front of one mirror, and you have a giant skinny torso and no legs. Stand in front of another, and you have long legs and a wavy head. The image is still you in each one, but a false version of you. When we’re facing an injury or setback, we can sometimes fall into distorted thinking patterns. These cognitive distortions are ways in which our brain interprets events wrongly and convinces us of things that might not be true.

When you have a thought, ask yourself: Am I seeing this through a regular mirror or through a funhouse mirror? If you catch yourself having a thought that’s being distorted through the funhouse mirror, see if you can change it to reflect a more accurate interpretation. Use the chart below to assess your thoughts and identify if any of them are being viewed through the funhouse mirror.


Mindset drill: Funhouse Mirror

Mindset to Master #1: Labeling Your Emotions

Mindset to Master #2: Going FAR

Mindset to Master #3: Practicing Bad News/Good News