Mar 082013

Cognitive Reframing PictureYour thoughts give rise to your emotions and your outlook on life. Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions, and often result in low self-esteem, a lack of motivation, damaged confidence, and even depression.

Cognitive reframing is a technique used to eliminate these negative mental maladies. This article will cover reframing and some other psychology techniques you can use to build a healthier mind.

Cognitive Reframing 101

Cognitive reframing can be broken down into three basic steps. The first is becoming more aware of negative thoughts, the second is evaluating the likelihood of your negative thoughts, and the third is reframing your negative thoughts and adopting a different perspective. Let’s look at an example of how you can apply cognitive reframing in a real situation.

For example, say you’re talking to a friend and he starts looking around, and checks his phone while you’re in the middle of saying something. You might think “Am I really that boring? Does anyone care about what I have to say? Why doesn’t anyone take me seriously?”

In this example, you have concluded your friend isn’t paying attention to you because you’re boring and he doesn’t take you seriously. Step one is being aware that you have arrived at a negative conclusion – that you’re boring and people don’t take you seriously.

Cognitive Reframing Image

Step two is evaluating your conclusion. People normally look around while in conversation – are you blowing this out of proportion? Maybe he’s in the middle of a text war with his girlfriend, in which case it’s understandable that he isn’t paying attention and checked his phone in mid-conversation. Think of reasonable alternatives to your negative conclusion.

Step three is actively reframing your negative conclusion and adopting a different perspective. The mental dialogue you experience might be something like “I can’t say for sure why it appeared as though my friend wasn’t paying attention. It could be any number of different things, and I have no reason to assume it’s because I’m boring.”

Supplement Reframing for Better Results

Reframing on its own is a great technique for developing a more positive outlook. If you really want to accelerate progress, add in an operant conditioning technique. Operant conditioning is the process of rewarding desired behaviours and punishing unwanted behaviours. Over time, the rewarded behaviours become more prevalent and the unwanted behaviours are extinguished.

Can something so basic really work on humans? Absolutely. Praise and recognition are great examples of operant conditioning in every day life. If you volunteer at a soup kitchen and get showered with praise and recognition for your good deed, you might volunteer again even if you didn’t like the work. The positive reinforcement from others makes it worthwhile.

So, how do you apply this concept to reframing and developing a more positive mental dialogue?

Get yourself an elastic band and wear it around your wrist. Every time you become aware of negative self talk, snap the elastic band on your wrist. It can help to imagine the snap of the band shattering the negative thought, allowing you room to replace it with a healthier one.

Not only will this help you develop a higher level of awareness, but you’ll associate negative thoughts with the pain of an elastic band snapping your wrist. Don’t snap the band too hard – the point isn’t to hurt yourself, but to give yourself a little jolt.

If you have any feedback or your own ideas on reframing negative thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Ryan Jakovljevic

Ryan is a social psychology major and personal development coach. An avid writer and public speaker, he provides coaching and counselling on relationships, dating, and self-improvement worldwide via Skype, phone, and email.

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