Cognitive reframing is extremely effective, if you know how and when to use it.
Used properly – and consistently – it will help you eliminate negative thoughts, challenge limiting beliefs, and become a happier person.
Thoughts shape beliefs, beliefs shape emotions, and emotions shape behaviour. If you want to change something you think, feel, or do, start by using reframing to shape your thoughts.
Let’s get to it…
Cognitive reframing – also known as cognitive restructuring – is a psychological technique that allows you to actively reprogram your brain. In short, if you change your beliefs, you create a real, physical change in your brain.
Your brain is like a muscle with many different parts, and just like a muscle, the parts you use often get bigger and stronger. There was a study done on cab drivers in London, comparing their brain scans with brain scans of average people.
They found the brain area responsible for mapping and memorizing routes (the hippocampus) is more developed in cab drivers. And not just more developed, but physically bigger.
When you think negative thoughts, you strengthen negative parts of your mind. A negative thought becomes a negative belief, a negative belief becomes a negative emotion, a negative emotion becomes negative behaviour.
No matter what you want to change – something you do, something you feel, or something you believe, the change begins with your thoughts.
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, 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</>
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. Here’s a list of common mental errors.
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 club – before anyone gets in, they go through security.
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.
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.
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”-Click to Tweet</>
4) Replace Faulty Beliefs
Faulty beliefs are the fuel of negative patterns. Find and replace the faulty beliefs, and you’ll free yourself from negative patterns in your life. The most extreme attempt at this was in the 1600’s, when some French guy named Descartes ran off into solitude in an attempt to examine and replace every single faulty belief he held.
A much less lonely option is to deal with negative beliefs as they come up. Each time you reframe a negative thought, you prevent one more brick being added to the wall.
If you really want to go next level and dive into your mind, think about WHY those negative beliefs came to mind in the first place.
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: On a day to day basis, whether you feel positive or negative is mostly a matter of perception. For every negative thought, there’s a positive counter, and vice versa. The state of your mind will reflect where you place your focus, so be mindful of your choices.
Dirty dishes – an annoying chore, or a sign that you’re eating well? Stuck in traffic – an infuriating combination of bad driving and bureaucratic incompetence, or time to relax and listen to a new podcast?
Have a negative pattern you’re trying to break? Struggling with an insecurity? Feeling anxious because of troubling thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know!