Try to remember when you were first learning to do arithmetic back in elementary school. Even simple problems of addition like 2+2=? would confound you. Many children when confronted with this arithmetic problem would look at the equation and conclude that if you put 2 together with another 2 then the answer would be 22. It looks as though that is the correct answer, but it isn't. This type of mistake is called a cognitive error--a problem with the way the child thinks. In time the child will learn to reason more clearly and will soon learn that the correct answer is 4 and not 22.

However, if the child doesn't learn, he will continue to think that 2+2=22. Not only will his math in school be wrong, but also, his checkbook will never balance as an adult. His simple cognitive error will yield numerous other mistakes and consequences.

By the time a child masters his incorrect math lesson, he starts to make other cognitive errors. These aren't in math but errors about himself. For example, a child brought up in an abusive family will have a distorted picture of himself. After making erroneous conclusions about himself, he will compound the problem further by applying the mistakes to all parts of his life. If the child believes the negative comments that he hears about himself, he will interact with all others with the negative image of himself. He will view his error about himself as correct even though it isn't. False reasoning will then contaminate all future decisions, relationships, and exchanges that he has in life.

Even if a child grows up in a normal family, he will make cognitive errors when he tries to learn how to walk and talk. The child will compare himself to his parents and conclude incorrectly that he is uncoordinated or dumb. It is obvious that he can't walk and talk as well as his parents. Therefore, he is inferior to them--a cognitive error. With his faulty reasoning, the child doesn't realize that his parents haven't always been this mobile or verbal. His parents experienced the same problems learning to walk and talk as he is having and did so at approximately the same time as he.

This child's situation worsens when the child discovers that he is going to have a little brother or sister enter his family. When the child processes this news, he erroneously concludes that he is being replaced because he can't walk or talk as well as his parents. From the child's perspective-2+2=22. This is not only the genesis of sibling rivalry; it is also the codifying of negative thoughts about himself and the foundation for further cognitive errors.

If these cognitive errors go unchecked, he will continue to make these thinking mistakes for the rest of his life. In addition there is also a cumulative effect to this process; errors compound themselves like interest on a mortgage. It isn't long before his emotional checking account is totally messed up.

What is the solution to cognitive errors and how can one change one's thinking process? Here is a four-step approach to get your emotional life to add-up correctly.

  1. Recognize the cognitive errors in your life and how they have affected you. Look especially at your early childhood for these mistakes in understanding. What were your negative feelings about yourself and where did they come from?
  2. Develop a positive mental attitude about your life to replace the erroneous one. Even if you haven't purged all your cognitive errors, fake it until you make it. Assume that you have arrived at the emotional health and happiness that you desire. Believing in something tends to make it come true. Believing that you are uncoordinated or dumb makes you feel that way. The opposite would also be true. Therefore, think positively.
  3. Test out your new feelings about yourself with someone that you can trust. This person could be a close friend or a professional who can recheck your relearning process. Let them hear out loud your emotional math--how you process material about yourself.
  4. Take good care of yourself. Exercise daily, adopt a proper diet, stop smoking, and if you drink, do so in moderation. If you take care of yourself and even pamper yourself, you will be showing yourself that you have value and worth.

Once you complete these four suggestions, you will be able to help others get the correct answer to 2+2=?

This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.