Cognitive Reframing also known as cognitive restructuring

In this article, we look at cognitive reframing and how it can improve your stress levels, help you make better decisions as well as other benefits to your well being.

What Is Cognitive Reframing?

Cognitive reframing, also known as cognitive restructuring, means thinking about a situation in a new way.

It is a tool used in cognitive therapy.

A classic reframe example is “ I failed” reframed to “I have learned and improved”.

When we experience something we have emotions and thoughts with images in our mind that put our experience into certain perspective.

In other words we frame a situation based on our knowledge and emotions. We can change this frame.

Obviously, we must reframe in a way that does not hurt others and does not free us of responsibility.

The great thing about cognitive reframing is, we do not have to believe the new thought. And even though feeling what we are thinking helps lock in the new frame, it is not necessary.

The main thing we must do is repeat the reframe enough, that it becomes our reality.

Why do we need to reframe?

Reframing gives you power over your experience and changes how you think of an event or problem to a more helpful way.

We often view things through a negative and unhelpful frame. We disempower ourselves before we have had a chance.

Reframing can help by changing the way people…

  • think about themselves,

  • their situations,

  • their past experiences,

  • their future expectations

  • and their relationships.

Remember, positive reframing involves thinking about a helpful way to look at things, not just having positive thoughts to simply feel good.

Reframing and Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Distortions are thoughts that are not in align with reality

A Cognitive distortion is when when we have a thought that is out of sync with reality.

Reframing is an antidote to our cognitive distortions.

We believe our view of the world is real, and we often see it as the only view. However, the way we think about something is one of many possible ways we can look at it.

You’ve probably had experiences where you were certain as you can be about something, only to find out you were partly, if not completely wrong.

Some common cognitive distortions are…

Catastrophizing – This is when we take a simple situation or small problem and imagine it leading to a catastrophic outcome.

Filtering – Focusing on the negatives of a situation and ignoring the positives.

Mind Reading – Imagining we know what other people are thinking.

Personalization – Believing you are responsible for things that you have no or very little control over.

The Benefits of Cognitive Reframing

Cognitive reframing helps with your general well being and decision making, it can also reduce the symptoms of some mental health disorders.

Here are some benefits that everyone can experience…

Reduced Stress

We are hardwired to focus on the negative aspects of a situation. It’s an inbuilt mechanism which prevents us from getting caught out by potential danger.

This was useful to our ancestors who dealt with life threatening situations daily. It also has some uses to us now. However most of the time we are not a in a life or death situation. It may feel like it, but that is down to our thinking.

Cognitive reframing reduces stress by helping us see the situation in a more realistic perspective and in a more helpful way. It overrides our in built compass that looks for danger over the positive and gives us peace of mind.

Cognitive Reframing Helps See Other View Points

When we see other view points we reap lots of benefits.

  • It helps us make better decisions. If you are in the habit of cognitive reframing you will come up with more positives and negatives of a situation. Leading not only to make better decisions but also to take advantage of opportunities that we might have missed because of our one track thinking.

  • We can easily be overwhelmed by a problem because we cannot see a way out. Cognitive reframing will allow us to see it from different angles. You never know, the problem may even turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

  • Seeing other view points helps in our relationships. Imagine how many arguments and misunderstandings you could avoid if you question the validity of your own point of view.

Compassion for Your Self and Others

When you see how your thoughts can mislead you, and how we are all hard wired to see the negative before the positive you will have compassion.

You will go easy on yourself for your mistakes and will have the same compassion for others.

Cognitive Reframing Enhances Self Reflection

When you do cognitive reframing consistently you will understand yourself better.

Higher self awareness is one of the keys to emotional intelligence. Understanding yourself better means you will understand others more clearly also.

Cognitive Reframing Can Help With These Issues

Cognitive reframing is useful for anyone who wants a helpful way of looking at things. It is also for people who want a better sense of well being and mental health.

However, there are also specific mental health conditions it can help with…

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depressive Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic Pain Disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Anxiety
  • Caregiver Stress
  • Grief & Loss
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Relationship Stress

For example, someone who suffers from social anxiety may have thoughts like “I’m boring” and “People will judge me”.

These thoughts can make them feel nervous and avoid social situations.

By using cognitive reframing, they can challenge these thoughts and replace them with more positive ones, such as “I have unique way of looking at the world, that few understand” and “Everyone is busy judging themselves, I won’t judge myself”.

These thoughts can make them feel more confident and enjoy social interactions.

Examples of Cognitive Reframing

Original ThoughtReframed Thought
“I’m terrible at this.”“I’m still learning, and with practice, I can improve.”
“I can’t believe I failed.”“This is just one setback, and I can learn valuable lessons from it.”
“I’ll never be able to do it.”“It might be challenging, but I can break it down into smaller steps and make progress.”
“Nobody likes me.”“I have people who care about me, and I can focus on building positive connections.”
“This situation is hopeless.”“There are always options and solutions; I just need to find them.”
“I can’t handle this stress.”“I’ve overcome stress before, and I have coping strategies to manage it.”
“I’m a failure because I made a mistake.”“Mistakes are part of learning and growth, and they don’t define my worth.”
“I’ll never be good enough.”“I am enough as I am, and I can continue to grow and improve.”
“I’m stuck in this situation forever.”“Change is possible, and I have the ability to make choices that lead to positive change.”
“I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t do anything.”“I can prioritize tasks and take them one step at a time, which will help me make progress.”
Cognitive Reframing Examples

How to Practice Cognitive Reframing

Step 1 of cognitive reframing is becoming aware of your unhelpful thinking patterns

Cognitive reframing is a skill you can learn and practice.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to go through these steps every time. Once you have understood the process, it will become second nature to you.

Here are some tips on how to do it effectively:

  1. Identify Negative Thought Patterns.

The first step is self awareness. Realise you have negative thought patterns.

This may not be easy for you if you have trusted your thoughts without question and assumed they are true.

Get a mental health professional to help you if you are struggling or if looking at your thoughts brings up overwhelming negative emotions.

Notice the situations that are the worst for you. Is it at work? In social situations? or when starting something new?

Use a journal to jot them down.

This process will help you understand how you see the world.

2. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts.

The next step is to question the validity and accuracy of your negative thoughts.

Ask yourself questions like…

Is this thought based on facts or feelings?

Is this thought helpful?

What evidence do I have to support or contradict this thought?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of thinking this way?

How would I advise a friend who had this thought?

3. Replace Your Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones.

The final step is to replace your negative thinking with a more positive and helpful one. You can do this by using techniques like:

Socratic questioning.

This involves using logic and reason to challenge your negative thoughts and find alternative explanations.

For example, if you think “I’m a failure”, you can ask yourself “What is the definition of failure?” or “How many times have I succeeded in the past?”

De-catastrophizing.

This involves reducing the intensity and impact of your negative thoughts by imagining the worst-case scenario and then finding ways to cope with it.

For example, if you think “I’ll never find a job”, you can ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?” or “How can I survive without a job in the short term?”

Putting thoughts on trial.

This involves pretending that you are a lawyer who has to defend or prosecute your negative thoughts in front of a judge.

You have to present evidence for and against your thoughts and then reach a verdict.

For example, if you think “Nobody likes me”, you can list the reasons why someone might like or dislike you and then decide which side has more evidence.

Practice Regularly.

Cognitive reframing is not a one-time thing. It is a habit that you need to practice regularly until it becomes automatic. The more you practice, the easier it will become and the more benefits you will experience.

Seek Professional Help.

Cognitive reframing can be done on your own, but sometimes it can be helpful to have the guidance and support of a professional therapist.

Conclusion

Cognitive reframing is a simple and powerful tool at your disposal that will help your well being, decision making and problem solving.

It will show you what you think is not necessarily the truth or the only way of looking at a situation or problem. This gives you the opportunity to look at it in a different and more helpful way. It also helps you identify irrational thoughts.

The first step is to realise you have negative, unhelpful thoughts that you habitually use, then to question them and replace them with empowering ones, which improve your mindset.

Eventually this process becomes automatic and you will find your experience of life improves.

When you consciously shift your thinking using cognitive reframing, it will help you reduce negative feelings and negative self talk. However these feelings have their uses so do not see the reframing as a feel good tool only, it is better to see it as a tool that will enhance your abilities by giving you helpful ways to look at the world.

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