Turn negative into positive.
Michael has just handed a report to his boss, Jan. She reads it, thanks him for his work, and makes a number of small criticisms.
Unfortunately, one of these comments "touches a raw nerve" with Michael, and he storms back to his office feeling angry and upset.
Michael knows that he needs to get over this, so that his negative mood doesn't affect others. He takes a few deep breaths, and writes down why he felt attacked by Jan. He then remembers that the overall quality of his work impressed her, and that she wants him to improve and grow. He also enjoyed working on the project, and, deep down, he knows he did a good job. After taking a few minutes to reframe the situation, Michael no longer feels angry. He calls Jan to apologize for his behavior, and then uses her suggestions to improve his report.
In this situation, Michael used cognitive restructuring to overcome negative, reactive thinking. We'll look at how you can use cognitive restructuring in this article.
Cognitive restructuring is a useful technique for understanding unhappy feelings and moods, and for challenging the sometimes-wrong "automatic beliefs" that can lie behind them. As such, you can use it to reframe the unnecessary negative thinking that we all experience from time to time.
Bad moods are unpleasant, they can reduce the quality of your performance, and they undermine your relationships with others. Cognitive restructuring helps you to change the negative or distorted thinking that often lies behind these moods. As such, it helps you approach situations in a more positive frame of mind.
Cognitive restructuring was developed by psychologist Albert Ellis in the mid-1950s, based on the earlier work of others, and it's a core component in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). You can use CBT to control and change negative thoughts, which are sometimes linked with damaging behaviors.
Cognitive restructuring has been used successfully to treat a wide variety of conditions, including depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, anxiety, social phobias, relationship issues, and stress.
These uses are beyond the scope of this article, and you should consult a qualified medical practitioner if you are experiencing issues like these. However, you can use the technique yourself to reframe less serious, day-to-day negative thoughts.
For example, you can use it to overcome negative thinking before you speak in public , or to improve your mood when you have a bad day. You can also use it to think positively before you go into a performance review or a job interview, or before you engage in a difficult conversation. It's also helpful for overcoming fear of failure and fear of success , and for beating self-sabotage .
Download our free worksheet, and follow the steps below to use the cognitive restructuring technique.
This framework is based on the steps in Drs Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky's book, "Mind Over Mood," which is well worth reading for a deeper understanding of this technique.
If you're still upset or stressed by the thoughts you want to explore, you may find it hard to concentrate on using the tool. Use meditation or deep breathing to calm yourself down if you feel particularly stressed or upset.
Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative mood, and write this into the appropriate box on the worksheet.
Next, write down the mood, or moods, that you felt during the situation.
Here, moods are the fundamental feelings that we have, but they are not thoughts about the situation. Drs Greenberger and Padesky suggest an easy way to distinguish moods from thoughts: you can usually describe moods in one word, while thoughts are more complex.
For example, "He trashed my suggestion in front of my co-workers" would be a thought, while the associated moods might be humiliation, frustration, anger, or insecurity.
Now, write down the natural reactions, or "automatic thoughts," you experienced when you felt the mood. In the example above, your thoughts might be:
In this example, the most distressing thoughts (the "hot thoughts") are likely to be "Maybe my analysis skills aren't good enough," and, "No one likes me."
Identify the evidence that objectively supports your automatic thoughts. In our example, you might write the following:
Your goal is to look objectively at what happened, and then to write down specific events or comments that led to your automatic thoughts.
Next, identify and write down evidence that contradicts the automatic thought. In our example, this might be:
As you can see, these statements are fairer and more rational than the reactive thoughts.
By this stage, you've looked at both sides of the situation. You should now have the information you need to take a fair, balanced view of what happened.
If you still feel uncertain, discuss the situation with other people, or test the question in some other way.
When you come to a balanced view, write these thoughts down. The balanced thoughts in this example might now include:
You should now have a clearer view of the situation, and you're likely to find that your mood has improved. Write down how you feel.
Next, reflect on what you could do about the situation. (By taking a balanced view, the situation may cease to be important, and you might decide that you don't need to take action.)
Finally, create some positive affirmations that you can use to counter any similar automatic thoughts in the future.
Use the approach to cognitive restructuring described here to address occasional negative thinking. Seek the advice of a qualified medical professional if you experience serious or persistent negative thoughts.
Cognitive restructuring is useful for understanding what lies behind negative moods. These may undermine our performance, or damage our relationships with other people.
To use cognitive restructuring, work through the following process:
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