REFRAMING UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS
Let’s understand ‘reframing’?
Reframing, put simply, is asking yourself “how can I look at this differently?” By accepting that just because you have a thought doesn’t make it an absolute truth, you’re able to find new meanings from a situation and therefore become mindful your feelings and experience.
So where do I begin?
It’s important to note that reframing is not a quick fix. How we choose to reframe our thoughts varies – what works for us, may not work for someone else. It’s a personalized method, which may require some patience to really nail down. Even then it’s not fool-proof and you may find that different situations call for different techniques.
Reframing helps lessen the burden of any anxieties we may have. However, if you feel you may be unable to control your feelings and are struggling to perform daily activities – talk to someone. Despite the stigma surrounding mental health – there is nothing wrong or shameful about seeking help. It does not negatively reflect on you. Talking to a mental health professional or a trusted adult will ensure that you find the help you need.
So, let’s get into reframing:
Step 1: Break It Down
Know what you’re thinking.
Ask yourself: “What am I thinking and why?”
Write down your thoughts – not only will this make it easier to work through them but will also document and identify any patterns and the timing of when they occur. Document the emotions you’re experiencing – sadness, anger, dread etc., as well as any events that lead up to them. Note what your response was, or would be. With everything laid out, you can begin to tackle and reframe!
Step 2: Fact Check
A lot of these thoughts have us believing in things that just aren’t true. So sitting down, and asking yourself “What’s the proof for this?” can be difficult initially – be patient with it.
Take a moment to breathe and center yourself. Try to separate fact from opinion, and write it down next to each thought.
For example, you’ve been trying to meet up with a friend but the last few attempts you made, she cancelled. This is a fact. Now, you interpreting this as “she doesn’t want to see me, she’s angry at me” this is emotion. You feel upset at the fact that she couldn’t make it, and try to find (or assume) a reason for it. In some cases this may be true, however, it is important to build an awareness of when your thoughts are a reaction to what you are feeling.
If you find yourself fixating on this one reason, try and ask yourself “what are three other reasons for this?”. Maybe your friend had deadlines, last minute family commitments or felt sick?
Step 3: Evaluate
Consider the reasoning for and against your thought.
How would you rate your thoughts according to how realistic they were? It is possible for your thoughts to be based off a certain truth, however, this may have been amplified into something that is unhelpful and stops you from doing what needs to be done.
Walk yourself through all possible outcomes – how likely are all these scenarios and which is most realistic? Has this happened in the past – how did that turn out? If my worst-case scenario came true, how likely is it that I’ll be okay?
Talk to your emotions and reason with them – “yes, I got a bad grade on this test, but that doesn’t mean the next one will be bad as well”.
By finding alternate thoughts and supporting evidence, you’re better able to curb any anxiety.
Step 4: What Can I Get From This?
Focusing on the bright side is a technique that does work for some. By redirecting your thoughts to the happier moments during a stressful period, you practice gratitude and make that your center point. This doesn’t disqualify all negative feelings and mean you’re grateful for what’s happening, but rather for the moments in between.
However, this may not always work. In such situations, finding the value of the event may help. You acknowledge how you feel, while also looking for a new meaning in the situation – “being forced to take a gap year sucks, it’s awful – but it’s allowed me to reset and look into other interests”.
Step 5: Beware Of ‘Should’
A lot of the thoughts or beliefs we hold onto tend to involve the word ‘should’. They become a ‘rulebook’ that we live by and compare ourselves to. However, they can often be detrimental and counterproductive, requiring some de-bunking.
When feeling negatively about a situation, try to identify the hidden ‘should’ behind it. Describe its meaning and effect on daily interactions.
Next, ask yourself where it came from? Often, these ‘shoulds’ are passed down to us by figures of authority or society, which we then accept and hold as absolute truths. Consider what was happening around you when this ‘should’ was first introduced to you, and what made you think it was a good rule to keep?
Evaluate – compare the advantages and disadvantages. How does it help you? How does it hold you back?
Finally, decide if you’d like to keep this rule, modify it or replace it with a new one. By doing this, you operate from a place of awareness – familiar with all your ‘shoulds’ and how they play into your life. This ensures that your thoughts are better aligned with your truth and reality.
For example, “I should lose weight and I should exercise more”. Here, the ‘should’ is a criticism, implying that something is “wrong”. You’re holding yourself against a certain standard and feel disappointment for not meeting the “right” requirement. Maybe your ‘should’ was influenced by magazines or someone told you to lose weight. Ask yourself – do I believe this? Is this what I want? Is this helpful to me? If not, then tell yourself “This is someone else’s should, not mine. I get to choose what feels right for me. I like things the way they are. I am not responsible for what other’s think and do not have to hold myself to their standards”
Not all ‘shoulds’ are bad. In such a case, this ‘should’ may desire from wanting to make certain changes to your lifestyle and overall health. This means it’s a “want” or rather, a “preference”. By replacing the ‘should’ with ‘want’, you take out the negative emotions and transform it into a motivating statement. Now, you can move towards acceptance, saying “I may not be near my fitness goals yet, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me. I’m slowly working towards them.”
It is important to create room for growth. Your current shoulds, wants and preferences may change over the years. Allow yourself that room to evaluate and expand, instead of holding yourself to your past self-expectations. For example, “I wanted to lose weight in the past, but right now, I am enjoying my body the way it is. I now want to exercise because it feels good, not because i am trying to meet a certain goal”
Step 6: Thought To Action
Now that you know what’s happening behind each thought, have evaluated and reasoned with it – think about your response. What is the best way to accomplish and honor your needs in this moment? How does this differ from what you’ve done before? How will this new response help you?
Start by choosing a small, easy action. Build from there.
If you’re stuck – try thinking about what you’d tell a friend to do in this situation. How would you speak to them?
Step 7: How Do You Feel Now?
Note how you feel after reframing your thoughts – write it down. This will be useful in gauging how well each reframing method worked and your progress.
Remember, learning how to effectively reframe your thoughts will take time. It’s advisable to stick with a method for some time before switching to something else. Overtime you will build the skill and be better able to quickly identify and shut down any intruding thoughts.
It is important to know when reframing may not be the best method. If you suffer from panic attacks, you may not be able to walk yourself through reframing in that moment and would benefit from some breathing and behavioral exercises instead.
The same goes for if you just aren’t feeling it – don’t force it, instead, allow yourself to explore other tools.