Dec 022014

Cognitive Reframing
Cognitive reframing is extremely effective, IF you know how and when to use it.

Today I’m going to show you guys how to PROPERLY use cognitive reframing to eliminate negative thoughts, challenge limiting beliefs, and become a happier person.

Let’s get to it…

First Off… What IS Cognitive Reframing?

Cognitive reframing – also known as cognitive restructuring – is a psychological technique that allows YOU to actively reprogram your brain. Sounds like some space age bullshit doesn’t it?

Yeah, I thought the same thing when it was first introduced to me… it works really well though. Without going too deep into the science of it, your brain has something called “neural plasticity”. In short, a change in beliefs creates a real, physical change in your brain.

I’m not talking a small amount of change either. Cab drivers in London underwent brain scans after memorizing thousands of routes, and researchers found the spatial part of their brain actually increased in size!

Let’s run through a mental exercise to see exactly how cognitive reframing works in real life. After the example, I’ll break the process down into steps so you’ll be able to apply them right away.

Say you’re telling your friend a story. You notice him looking around, and attribute it to disinterest. Seconds later, he checks his phone. Now you KNOW you’re boring, and feel embarrassed. You question yourself, and for the rest of the day you feel shitty and insecure.

In this situation, the conclusion seems bullet proof. But it isn’t so – the idea that your perception matches reality is called “naive realism”. The truth is, as you’ll see in the next section, it’s all a matter of perception.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you perceive what happens to you.”-Click to Tweet


Cognitive Reframing in 5 Easy Steps

1) Learn About Basic Cognitive Errors
You don’t perceive reality accurately. Between what happens, you perceiving it, and you drawing conclusions about it, there’s a lot of room for mistakes.

People make mental errors all the time. In fact, before I go over the above example and point out the mistakes, see how well you do. Here’s a list of common mental errors. If you think you know which mental errors were made, leave a comment and I’ll let you know if you’re right!

Hint: There are five “correct” mental mistakes in the list.

2) Develop Mental Awareness
Once you know what to be aware of, it’s time to start practising. A trained mind is like an exclusive nightclub – before anyone gets in, they’re carefully looked over.

Actually, that’s a great way of thinking about it. Negative ideas are like shady people. If you took over management of a shady nightclub, wouldn’t you tighten up security and hire better bouncers?

That’s exactly what I’m asking you to do now. If you’re harbouring negative thoughts, it’s because your security is weak. You let in some lame ass people and they’re ruining your club.

Let’s go back to the example. Two new ideas were accepted: you suck at telling stories, and your friend finds you boring. Are these new ideas legit? Did they wait in line and pass through security, or did they sneak in the back? Those are the type of awareness based questions you need to ask yourself.

3) Challenge Your Conclusions
This is the most important step of cognitive reframing. Once you understand the types of mental errors and develop an awareness of them, it’s time to start challenging your ideas.

In our example, challenging the ideas means looking at alternatives. Does your friend usually look around while you talk? Is it just you, or does he do it to other people? Is he usually attentive? Could he be expecting an important phone call or text? Could there be something going on he might not want to talk about?

Usually, this process happens at the subconscious level. Your brain would’ve quickly ran through these options, and based on your past experiences, brought the most likely scenario to your conscious awareness.

Although challenging new ideas as they form is the best option, most of us weren’t raised knowing cognitive reframing techniques. If you want to do deep level, meaningful change, you need to figure out WHY your brain concluded you being boring is the most likely scenario.

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”-Click to Tweet

4) Replace Faulty Beliefs
Actively hunting down faulty beliefs is exhausting. Just ask Descartes – the French philosopher who moved to the woods, determined to analyze and test every single one of his beliefs.

Unless you’d also like to be a legendary French philosopher, deal with negative beliefs as they come up. If you want to be a reframing Jedi, think about WHY those negative beliefs came to mind in the first place.

If your beliefs involve other people – they often will, especially if you’re digging deep – it’s important to involve them whenever possible. Instead of creating a psychological endeavour and struggling to figure out whether your friend is ignoring you, just ask.

5) Practical Tips
All of this is useless if you don’t use it. Here are some ways you can actively practice cognitive reframing right away, in your day to day life.

The Elastic Band Technique: Wear a rubber band around your wrist, and whenever you have a negative thought, snap it lightly. It’s not to hurt yourself, just a gentle physical sensation to raise awareness.

Watch Your Words: The language you use creates your reality. Do you really HATE your job? Is the food really disgusting, or just not that good? Are you really a useless idiot, or did you just make a mistake?

Look For Positives: It’s a bit unsettling to admit, but whether you see something as positive or negative is a choice. Don’t believe me? Try listing positives and negatives for a situation or event you feel is clearly one or the other. Most of the time it’s a lot more even than you think.

Have any cognitive reframing tips of your own? Want to share your experiences? Did you spot some cognitive errors from our example? Leave a comment and let me know!



Written by Ryan Jakovljevic

Ryan Jakovljevic is an award-winning counsellor and relationship expert with more than three years of experience helping both individuals and couples. He does weekly videos on YouTube, posts daily on Facebook and twitter, and you can also find him on Google+.
 Posted by at 2:53 pm

  9 Responses to “Cognitive Reframing”

  1. Great article. You didn’t mention NLP or that the map is not the territory. Do you have an NLP background or something different? I like when thoughts from different backgrounds and origins converge to confirm the same hypothesis. It proves correctness. Sort of like checking your math.

    Keep up the good work!


  2. I found your article informative. I will probobly reference it in my paper. Do you think cognitive reframing could help solve global issues? Also, for a great book about cognitive thresholds, gridlock, the way we have evolved our thinking and some solutions to help solve society’s issues, The Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa is a thought-provoking read.

    • Thanks for the info Rene, I’ll definitely check it out!

      Cognitive reframing is a vital technique, and if it leads to a better understanding of opposing perspectives it could certainly impact important negotiations on a global scale.

  3. Could you help me to learn how to do reframing for a misophonioa issue? I have just certain triggers at night mostly and I believe I know where those came from and when started to happen. Thank you 🙂

    • Sure! With cognitive reframing I need the original frame first though, once I know that we can take it from there.

      • Well, my triggers are: noise from neighbours (slamming doors, cabinets, loud music, etc) I believe they are disconsiderative doing that. People’s bad table manners (chewing with their mouth open, burping loudly, etc) repetitive movement with a pen or foot from people. Of course with strangers I have to keep my mouth shout but with the ones I know I let them know.

        • That misophonia takes a huge part of joy from my life. Getting a good sleep is very important to me. I developed some “sleeping anxiety” since I was a little girl when I heard my parents having sex, since then I went to bed with that thought in my mind that I was going to be waken up by them.

        • When it comes to sleeping you’d have to look at what’s keeping you awake. If you’re not already in a cool, dark, quiet room, try that first.

          If your sleep anxiety is keeping you up and you think it’s because you heard your parents having sex, start your cognitive reframe there.

          I’m afraid to go to sleep because I might hear my parents having sex and that would… mean ______. Or that would… cause ______.

          That’s an example of a frame. To reframe it, look at it in a different way or try to pinpoint what about your beliefs are inaccurate.

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