You’re halfway through the challenge! Welcome to Day 5: Cognitive Reframing
How did you go yesterday with the no complaining exercise? It’s definitely one of the hardest exercises in the entire challenge. I hope you got a little glimpse into how much the human brain can crave negativity. Not to worry though, although it takes a little time and effort, the research is clear that we are able to rewire cognitive patterns.
Today we’re going to take another step in that direction with a psychological technique called cognitive reframing (CR).
The principle behind CR is pretty straightforward. The way we view the world is closely tied to the way we experience the world. If we have a more optimistic approach to life, our experience of life is more enjoyable – and this is independent of external events.
CR is the transformation of negative events into positive ones. To do so, you need to look for a more constructive interpretation of the experiences you are having.
As a technique, CR has been used in some form for thousands of years, though its modern incarnation was developed by the pioneer of Cognitive psychology, Aaron T. Beck in the 1960’s, and it’s still used as a therapeutic intervention across the world today.
However, cognitive reframing isn’t just relevant for people in the therapy – it’s applicable to everyone. Every one of us has a human brain, so we’re all dealing with cognitive biases and irrational thoughts that would benefit from being corrected.
Fact: A series of texts known as the Corpus Hermeticum, which are believed to go back to Ancient Egpyt, propose the idea of mental transmutation. This states that any mental energy or force, such as anger, can be transmuted – or transformed – into any other mental substance, such as love. This idea influenced early Gnostic Christianity, as well as the late great Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and has some parallels with cognitive reframing.
As difficult as it is to reframe our thoughts, it’s absolutely necessary, even to just ensure a balanced perspective. It’s also relevant to continue to consciously do so even after you believe that you have a positive attitude because the nature of the human brain means you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Research has shown that our minds outweigh negative information 3:1. So if you have a situation where there are three positive memories and one negative memory, your brain will weight them equally.
Keep this ratio in mind because we’re going to be using it in the exercise today.
1. Take out your journal and write down the 3 things you decided not to complain about yesterday. If you have forgotten them or didn’t manage to get to the exercise, simply think of 3 things you commonly complain about (e.g. a coworker, traffic, politics)
2. Reframe those complaints into positive statements. If it’s a legitimate dislike such as “I don’t like Donald Trump” simply write the complaint as it pertains to your own feelings.
Donald Trump really p*sses me off, could become; I don’t like the way Donald Trump governs the nation, but it teaches me about patience and diversity.
I hate the traffic in the morning, could become; I would prefer not to drive in this much traffic, but at least it gives me time to listen to my favourite podcast.
(These may feel forced at first, but recognise that their intention is not to deny your feelings, it’s to bring an equilibrium to your attitude.)
3. Say these 3 new ways of seeing things 3 times out loud.
Congrats again on making it halfway through the challenge. I’m sure by now you’ve noticed a difference in your mood, if only slightly. Just imagine for focusing on one or more of these exercises could do for in one month of practice, or one year! Or ten years! Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the meaning of the word awesome (you’ve probably never thought about it right?), and why it’s surprisingly important when it comes to the psychology of self-esteem.