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Cognitive Restructuring


Today's stressors are causing a lot of negative thinking.  Many psychologists explain that we are hard wired for negative thinking. If we didn't start out that way, we often end up there. We create habitual responses to things that act like wheels stuck in the grooves of a track. So stress and negativity often lead to stronger emotions like anxiety, depression, feelings of being out of control and uncertainty. 

Pulling yourself out of it can be difficult. Maybe you have shared your feelings with friends, you have even tried following the teachings of various motivational speakers, or you have tried to just be more positive. But nothing seems to work.

One powerful trick or tip that cognitive psychologitsts recommend is cognitive restructuring (CR). By becoming aware of what you are thinking and anlaysing it, you are better able to pull out of those deep, negative grooves. 

Cognitive restructuring helps to challenge these automatic thoughts and instead compare them with reality. Often people focus on an event and go to the negative outcome because of a past experience or a belief about what might happen. If you use the example of asking your boss for a promotion, instead of only thinking abotu the reasons why not to, also be sure to identify the reasons it might work and how you can affect the outcome.  Be sure to bring facts in to your negative assumptions. Maybe you have never asked your boss for a promotion before so you don't really know what will happen. And perhaps it is also true that you have not yet prepared for this type of conversation. So if you spend time preparing it might boost your confidence that you will have a more successful outcome. 

Cognitive restructuring is also something that can be done long term. You can literally change the negative grooves to positive ones by doing some of these mental activities to boost your confidence and your positive reaction. 

Meditation - Use meditation excercises that put you in touch with your mind and what you are thinking. Then use techniques like deep breathing to move through those thoughts to a more calm state. That way when a negative situation comes up during the day, your mind and body become more and more accostomed to responding to those situations with a calmer state of mind and body. 


Awareness of your thoughts - you can literally stop yourself from thinking by thinking about thinking. Stop in the middle of a thought or intense emotion and start thinking about how the thought came about. You can also identify when and where the negative thoughts start. If you start to look at your "triggers" more logically, you might better understand how to move beyond them. In the case above, am I afriad to talk to my boss or do I really believe he won't care? 

Socratic questioning - you can also stop negative thinking by cornering your brain. Stop and ask it a series of questions digging deeper and deeper. Is this thought even a realistic outcome? Am I basing my thought on feelings or on facts? Am I viewing the situation as black and white or is there another alternative? In the case above, is it really true the boss doesn't even know who I am? He signs my reviews and was the one that hired me so he definitely knows  I exist. 

Guided imagery - instead of thinking the thoughts you are thinking, think of a happy memory or a strong, positive memory that takes you away from the negative one.  In the case above, maybe you imagine a time when your boss complimented your work. You can also imagine yourself in the positive light. Imagine yourself going in and asking the boss for a raise and getting what you asked for. 

Thought recording - this is  a way of keeping track of and reframing your thoughts. You can keep track of them in many ways - written, verbally by talking with someone else, or verbally by recording yourself.  The key is to hear yourself objectively and change the thought. 

For example, if you are afraid to ask your boss for a promotion, your thought recording could go like this:

  • Situation: No one else is getting a promotion, so my boss won't give it to me. 

  • Thoughts: I'm not worth the extra money. My boss doesn't value my contribution. 

  • Emotions: fear, failure. 

  • Behaviors: avoids boss and lacks motivation for work tasks. 

  • Alternate Thought: I know the boss has given others a promotion in the past. He praised the job I did on that last project. Maybe because no one else is getting a promotion, there is budget and the boss needs someone to get promoted to help her get stuff done.  

Decatastrophizing - this is basically worst case scenario planning. What is the worst thing that can happen if you ask for a promotion? It is unlikely that they will fire you. The worst case is that they might say no and you will be embarassed. You would still have a job and you would perhaps know more about where you stand with the boss so you can make decisions about what to do to either get promoted or find another role you can get promoted to. 

Self-compassion - It’s about having a kind and compassionate conversation with yourself. Stop referring to yourself as stupid or an idiot. Sometimes it helps to think of yourself outside of yourself. If you were talking to yourself as a relative or a friend, you might say more encouraging things. "It's okay. you tried your best. you know you do a good job. you can always try again when you are ready."

Overall, these tactics can short-term bring you out of your confidence crisis and can long-term help you automatically think toward the things that are in your control and give you the self-confidence to get what you want - like that promotion! 

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