Cognitive Restructuring: Changing Negative Thoughts and Reframing To Positive Thoughts

The Works Wellness Center offers some thoughts on changing negative thoughts and reframing to positive thoughts this week. These are times where this may be very useful! 

Cognitive restructuring is a way of changing negative thoughts and reframing them to positive thoughts. It is a way of rewiring your brain and pathways to change a negative or hard to deal with situation spin it into something optimistic. By doing this reframing, we are changing our affect and mood which trickles into everything we do. 

Follow this guide to start restructuring your thoughts for positivity:

Let’s say you have an initial thought of “The coronavirus outbreak is never going to end.”

  1. Hit the pause button – we as humans act on instinct to deal with strong emotions. Thinking the outbreak will never end may bring out anger which causes us to lash out. Or it may cause anxiety which makes us hide. Hit the pause button to briefly remove yourself from the situation to ask what’s actually going on.
  1. Identify the trigger – what caused the strong emotion to that initial thought? Was it the stress of being your child’s remote-learning coordinator? Was is the outlook of your financial future? Was it being cooped up inside with nowhere to go?
  1. Notice your automatic thoughts – automatic thoughts are thoughts that just happen to us instinctually – we didn’t choose them. For example, getting frustrated with simultaneously being your child’s “teacher” and parent may make you think “I can’t do this, I can’t handle this schedule, and it’s going to go on forever.” Or being cooped up inside may make you think “All the fitness milestones I hit are gone, and I’m back to where I started.” We all have automatic thoughts, and it’s important to notice what yours are so you can start to change them.
  1. Identify your emotional reaction and how strong it is – The type of emotions and how strong they are depend almost entirely of what type of thinking we engage in. If your automatic thought of not being able to handle being your child’s teacher and parent is “I can’t do this!” You’re likely going to feel anger and hopelessness. Likewise, if your automatic thought of staying inside all day is “I worked so hard at the gym, and now I’m worse off than before!” You’re probably going to feel a mixture of anxiety and fear. Try to notice how strong those emotions are.
  1. Generate alternative positive thoughts – Once you’ve identified the trigger, examined your automatic thoughts, and rated your emotional response, the next step is replacing your thoughts with something positive. Instead of thinking “I can’t do it,” maybe replace that with “I never realized how talented in school my kid is,” or “The scheduling tools I’m forced to learn now are really going to help me in the future.” Or instead of thinking “All my fitness has been lost,” think “This is a great time to seek out new ways to exercise. I am going to have so many backup plans to exercise when the gym opens up again!”
  1. Re-rate the intensity of your emotional response – After coming up with (hopefully multiple) alternative thoughts, see what emotions you’re feeling instead. You’re probably not as angry or frustrated, and instead are feeling hopeful and motivated. Noting these positive emotions will help fuel the cycle to continue cognitive restructuring new habits.

-Shared by Kendall Vaughan, Health Coach / Personal Trainer Works Wellness Center 

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