Reframe. . .
All situations that happen to you in life have no inherent meaning. You are the one who signs a meaning, seeing a situation through a certain frame. With cognitive reframing, you can change the way you look at something and consequently change how you experience it. That kind of approach enables you to implement the ancient wisdom that you can’t always control what happens to you, but you can certainly control how you react to different situations – no matter how tough your position might be.
And that’s the ultimate power you always possess. If you want to change something, be it how you feel, how you do things or what you believe, the change always begins with you switching your thoughts and reframing how you see reality. Your thoughts about the situation that happened to you are always more important than the situation itself. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) offers two very practical and easily applicable exercises when it comes to managing thoughts and interpreting events:
- Emotional accounting – transforming specific negative thoughts into positive ones
- Cognitive reframing – transforming specific negative events into more positive ones
Both exercises work in pretty much the same way. Some event happens to you. You perceive an event as a negative one based on your toxic core beliefs. That causes automatic negative thoughts and negative feelings, which leads to inaction and depression. With emotional accounting, you strive to transform automatic negative thoughts into more positive ones, while with cognitive reframing, you try to find a more constructive interpretation of what is happening to you. That gives you an opportunity to neutralize negative feelings and be more action‑oriented.
Negative frames or stories that you tell yourself about different life situations are always based on irrational core beliefs that lead to self-defeating thoughts, emotions and actions. It’s like having a dark cloud above your head and seeing reality much darker than it is. This is the so‑called cognitive triad, where you repeatedly emphasize:
- The negative view of yourself
- The negative view of the world
- The negative view of the future
The main point of cognitive reframing is to find a more positive interpretation, view or experience of unexpected adverse events, concepts or even ideas that you dislike. With cognitive reframing, you challenge yourself to illuminate positive sides of challenging situations, avoid seeing only the negative, and identify a brighter narrative of what is happening to you.There are three main goals you want to achieve by performing cognitive reframing:
- Describing your situation as accurately as possible: Your negative mind loves to see reality darker than it is, especially when something negative happens to you. With cognitive reframing, you want to make sure you see reality as accurately as possible, including all the negatives and positives, but without big cognitive distortions.
- Illuminating personal power: Just like your mind loves to see the reality darker than it is, it also loves to portray you as way less powerful than you really are. With cognitive reframing, you want to accurately understand your ability to cope with the event.
- Brainstorming alternative views: You want to find better alternative views of what is happening to you. You want to seek a redemptive narrative. The redemptive narrative (frame) tells the story of a life where tough events also bring something good (with time).
If you manage to achieve all three goals with cognitive reframing, your ability to cope with the situation instantly improves and the negative effects, like severe anger, depression or hopelessness, are dramatically decreased.
Consequently, you can think, feel and act more rationally. What more could you ask for? When you do cognitive reframing, you will soon see that your mind constantly strives to slip back into your previous toxic thinking. Your mind, even after cognitive reframing, is like a small child (or rather a drunken monkey) constantly testing the limits and trying to wander off and bite you in the ass along the way. That’s why you need to perform another exercise along with cognitive reframing. It’s called holding your frame. When you do cognitive reframing and see reality in a more positive way, hold to the new frame strongly. Don’t let it go for even a second. Don’t slack off; hold your frame no matter what. No retreat, no surrender. If you don’t stubbornly hold to your new positive frame, you will lose it and you will go back to your previous thinking.
So, every time your mind tries to wander off and hurt you by seeing life more negative than it really is, consistently hold your new positive view in your head. You have to be stronger than the “mind monkeys”, and sooner or later your mind will give up on the negative view. Before even starting with the cognitive process, you have to neutralize the negative feelings a little bit. You must loosen up before changing your frame. The negative mind is really stubborn and in the depths of struggle, it’s hard to see anything positive. Thus, you must first neutralize your severe negative emotions a little bit.
When you are performing cognitive reframing, make sure you don’t fall into potential traps. The most common ones are excessive fantasizing, seeing reality with rose-colored glasses or finding a good excuse for procrastination or malicious behavior. That’s not what this exercise is for. The main point of cognitive reframing is to find the bright spots, neutralize negative emotions, prepare for action and scale what already works.
Peace and Love, Jim