The fact that positive people are more successful in life has never been a secret. And while this might not be a solution for everything, the research is clear: those who avoid destructive thought patterns are happier and more prolific overall. When you’re down in the dumps, being one of them seems impossible. Fortunately, rewiring your brain so that it focuses on beneficial aspects only is completely achievable. The process is a little something called cognitive reframing, and it can improve your life visibly if approached correctly.
Here is everything that you need to know about the concept, its history and how to apply it in your everyday endeavors.
What is Cognitive Reframing?
The term was coined by esteemed psychiatrist Aaron Temkin Beck in the 1960s. He is widely regarded as the father of cognitive behavioral therapy, also referred to as CBT. According to Beck, core beliefs affect mood and mental health. What is more, automatic negative thoughts are precursors of depression in many cases. Nevertheless, these patterns can be kept under control with the right approach. Thus, the aim of cognitive reframing is to educate people in pinpointing these destructive patterns and replacing them with positive ones. (1)
The concept of cognitive reframing was born through Beck’s efforts of finding a proper cure for depression. (2) Furthermore, cognitive reframing also improves memory and alleviates manifestations of anxiety in everyday life. (3) But while the therapy happens inside the clinic, cognitive reframing refers to a more general process. Some people undergo it automatically or voluntarily without a necessity for expert medical guidance. This differentiates it from similar processes in the same spectrum, such as cognitive restructuring or cognitive distortion.
The term refers to the general process, which is mostly attempted in a positive manner. Nevertheless, it can also go the other way around. Thought patterns can robotically turn from beneficial to detrimental in the blink of an eye. When that happens, the same process helps us identify what is amiss and attempt a reversal.
When therapy is not involved, it is all a matter of changing your mindset. This can help you process everyday situations in a healthier manner, as well as respond to them appropriately. Therefore, cognitive reframing is something that can be pursued at home with incredible results.
Benefits of Cognitive Reframing
There is a handful of reasons why everyone should integrate the practice of cognitive reframing in their lives. Not only is it an amazing way to regain control of your thoughts, but it also leads to better cognition and improved mental health.
As previously mentioned, cognitive reframing is a viable alternative in the treatment of depression. (2) By its very nature, the practice promotes the replacement of harmful mindsets with nurturing ones. By rationalizing the negativity that is gnawing away at your mind, you will be able to substitute it with happier thoughts.
Cognitive reframing also functions similarly to memory training. When the two are combined, memory control and ability increase, according to research. (3)
When you believe that your mind is able to achieve incredible things, it paves the way for that to actually happen. In addition, being secure of your skills in this department prolongs their lifespan and keeps you on top of your game. For this reason, it has proved to be a valuable resource in preventing the loss of capacity that comes with old age. What is more, it also helps with stress management by balancing the way you perceive your surroundings. (4)
Living in fear of others having unpleasant opinions about you is a stressor that many people nowadays try to fight. Cognitive reframing is a viable way to combat this feeling. Liberating yourself from its clutches will take an unnecessary burden off your shoulders. Therefore, actively practicing cognitive reframing in your everyday life has beneficial effects. It leads to a happier and more fulfilling existence that is stress-free. On top of that, it also improves your memory function, which helps you stay sharp and on your feet.
All in all, it promotes a healthy and liberating lifestyle that allows you to focus only on what matters.
Cognitive Reframing Examples
To better understand how basic cognitive reframing works, it is important to analyze its unfolding through examples that have real-life applicability. There are some key steps that go into the practice which will aid you to discern the deceiving mechanism from the actual facts. Concordia University suggests categorizing aspects of a particular experience to promote the balanced outcome. (4)
First, lay out the situation, as well as your thoughts and feelings towards it. For example, let’s assume that your friends went out last weekend and you weren’t invited. If your mind is wired to think negatively, you will assume that they dislike you. You might even go as far as become convinced that you will end up alone and friendless. This naturally causes feelings of sadness, anxiety, and loneliness, but stop and consider the following two aspects for a little while.
What evidence do you have to support your outlook? Sure, you might get moody every now and then, and maybe sometimes you’re difficult to handle. But, after all, who isn’t? Everyone has their bad days, and it’s a natural part of life. Now stop and think about the counterevidence. Your friends have told you how much they appreciate you and your presence in the group countless times before. Furthermore, other people in your immediate clique didn’t get invited either. It was more likely a small, spur of the moment thing, rather than an entourage hang out.
This is what cognitive reframing is, in a nutshell! When you feel tempted to look at an event negatively, rethink it and bring positive arguments. Do it enough, and your mind will learn to avoid the harmful train of thought almost instinctively and focus on the positive one instead.
The same mechanism ensues when you feel like you’ve done something wrong at work. Your self-esteem takes a blow and you feel disheartened. In such a situation, it’s essential to refrain from seeing failures as final.
There are certain circumstances in life during which we are used to triggering negative responses. But instead of that, you need to impose self-compassion. (5)
Similar examples that apply to various situations in life could be extrapolated from here, but the conclusion remains universal. By identifying harmful judgments and dismissing them as untrue, you are paving your way towards a happier, healthier life.
How to Reframe Your Thoughts
In order to reframe your thoughts successfully, you need to identify the cognitive distortions you are prone to. Cognitive distortions refer to dysfunctional attitudes towards life situations. These are scientifically known as maladaptive behaviors, and as many as 50 can be identified. (6) Some of the more widely encountered ones are personalizing, catastrophizing, mind reading and negative predictions.
Personalizing refers to being intimately affected by something that wasn’t meant as a personal attack towards you. Catastrophizing is essentially the act of blowing a small mishap out of proportion. Mind reading involves assuming that you know what others think of you. It projects distorted perceptions of others’ opinion of you. Finally, negative predictions entail instantly estimating that any action will have a detrimental outcome.
If this sounds familiar, then it means that you are prone to cognitive distortions. Choose one of them at a time to focus on so that you will be able to dismiss them in time. (5)
When you notice one take place, simply ask yourself what the positive outlook on the situation would be. Try it out for a week at first. Soon enough, it will become a natural part of your thought patterns.
Cognitive Restructuring: When to Get Professional Help
The common confusion can also be observed in the sources cited before. Authority data is mostly focused on the concept of cognitive restructuring because it is the one that pertains to the sphere of behavioral therapy.
But while cognitive reframing is something we are all capable of on our own, restructuring is another story. It is usually pursued under strict medical supervision. The expert in this situation is usually a psychiatrist or therapist. The practice is part and parcel of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is based on a schematic change mechanism.
Cognitive restructuring is a collaborative therapeutic effort in CBT focused on helping those in mental distress. This is done through identifying, evaluating and subsequently modifying faulty thoughts. (7) It is basically the aforementioned process, but performed in a clinical environment rather than at home.
But when is it time to seek professional help? The answer is simple: when you cannot handle cognitive reframing on your own. After attempting to make your life easier at home by learning how to reframe your thoughts, you must assess the success of this practice. If you find that you aren’t able to shake off cognitive distortions, then maybe CBT is the solution for you.
Recent studies have uncovered that it can be used in the treatment of various psychological disorders. (8) Cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders, according to the same studies. Unfortunately, this solution is highly unexplored around the world in spite of it being rather cost-effective.
As previously mentioned, identifying your predominant cognitive distortions is essential to the success of the practice. Many people are unable to achieve that on their own, which is why reaching out is essential. Therefore, if you feel like it’s time to restructure your thoughts professionally, consult with your therapist. He or she will help you establish the best course of action.
When it comes to your health, mental or otherwise, an informed decision is the best one to take.
Author bio: Alex Moore is a West Virginia Psychology undergraduate interested in the challenges people face for the better managing of mental health. He believes that information about health should be freely available, interesting and well-written. Find him writing for www.schizlife.com.