When we are stressed, in pain, anxious, scared, angry, we can easily fall prey to the habit of framing what happens to us in life in a negative, worsening-case outlook. If not interrupted, this negative framing can spark a negative feedback loop that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more negatively we see things, the more we believe our world is negative; in this cycle, we can unconsciously find ourselves slipping more and more into negative thinking, which not only drains our own energy, but those of people around us, which can lead to isolation and withdrawal, and an acceleration of the negative, downward mental spiral.
Cognitive reframing (which is a part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] toolkit) is a very powerful and easy-to-learn tool that we can enable us to interrupt a negative thought feedback loop.
Cognitive reframing is the act of consciously changing the way we automatically perceive events or situations as negative. Practicing cognitive reframing doesn’t mean we have to invent or make up positive facts that aren’t actually present, but rather to open up our perspective by:
- Focusing on the facts at hand
- Refraining from obsessing about worst-case scenarios and discounting how we cannot predict the future
- Realizing when we are drawing conclusions or filling in the blanks for facts we don’t have or can’t confirm
- Generally being more conscious (here and now thinking, rather than mentally residing in the past or future)
The steps in cognitive reframing include:
1. Become aware of an automatic, negative thought
Negative thoughts are most powerful when they are unconscious, because this is when identify with them. If we identify with a negative thought, then there is no way to create space or distance from it, which is what can pull us into a negative, downward spiral. When thoughts remain unconscious, we believe they are 100% true, even if there is no fact or logic behind them. Until we wake up and consciously evaluate them, they will continue harming us without resistance.
By becoming aware of our negative thoughts as they are happening, we de-identify from them. This creates a…