I have always felt drawn to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a psychotherapist because it involves changing perceptions. So in other words, for me that meant many people could benefit from CBT techniques.
During my work with community mental health, I quickly learned about the lack of resources plaguing our communities. Sometimes events are completely out of our control and all we may have left is our perception and the story we tell ourselves about what has happened and what it means to us now.
CBT to me intends to help you learn how to adapt to their circumstances, but in a way that is helpful and productive. That does not mean that your situation is not fair or difficult to live with; it just means that you have found a way to live with your surroundings until opportunities of change present themselves. So in other words, “hold on, change is coming”.
Cognitive behavior therapy has three main components; thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
The main focus of CBT is:
• To increase awareness of maladaptive patterns of thinking and acting out our feelings.
• To decrease of problematic symptoms in their frequency and intensity.
• To increase one’s ability to cope and to maintain their coping skills.
• And to prevent relapse back into maladaptive patterns.
So lets take a look at what these main components of CBT look like.
Here is where you begin notice your negative thought pattern. Let’s say you made a mistake with a task that is really important to you and your future. What are you are your automatic thoughts? What are you saying to yourself? What thoughts come flooding through you mind?
Pessimistic and Counterproductive Thoughts
“I am so stupid because I always make mistakes.”
Neutral and Productive Thoughts; Helpful in Overall Self-Acceptance
“I sometimes make mistakes and I learn from them as well.”
Optimistic and Highly Productive Thoughts
“My mistakes are apart of life and a sign I that am growing as a person.”
It’s not to say that mistakes does not cause disappointment. However, focusing on your thought process and redirecting yourself can help decrease the intensity in uncomfortable emotions. It can be helpful with being more resilient when situations do not go as expected.
Thoughts are not emotions. However, what you think is generally what you feel.
So if a person thinks “I am so stupid because I always make mistakes” in response to making a mistake, how is this person likely to feel? If it doesn’t sound good, it’s probably not going to make the person feel good either. This person may feel worthless, ashamed, and frustrated.
So let’s say this person take a neutral stance with the thought, “I sometimes make mistakes and I learn from them as well.” It is highly likely this person may initially feel sad but redirect themselves and feel hopeful about their future.
If a person took a positive stance and stated “My mistakes are apart of life and a sign that I am growing as a person“, this person would likely feel proud, powerful, and optimistic.
Because of your thoughts and feelings, how did you choose to act them out?
So if a person thinks “I am so stupid because I always make mistakes” and feels worthless, ashamed, and frustrated, how is that person likely to behave? Would they try new want to things? Would they fear failure? What does their confidence look like? This person would likely avoid making important decisions and trying new things in fear that they would make mistakes.
The person with a neutral stance thinking “I sometimes make mistakes and I learn from them as well” is likely to try again. Because this person was initially sad but was able to redirect themselves and feel hopeful about the future, they were able to bounce back. They may have some anxiety due to the past, but this person uses their mistakes as lessons and understands that with those lessons they will one day try again.
If a person took a positive stance with “My mistakes are apart of life and a sign that I am growing as a person“, and felt feel proud, powerful, and optimistic, this person would likely go full speed ahead towards their goals and ambitions. This person practices self-acceptance and does not see their mistakes as failures. This person is likely to engage in activities without fear and takes advantage of upcoming opportunities.
Super Tip and Takeway
Here is the super tip; you don’t have to react to your thoughts. It is your brains job to try and problem solve and protect your from potential harm. However, sometimes what the brain might perceive as threatening or dangerous may not be harmful to you in anyway at all. Your brain may tell you to not try again to avoid making mistakes in order to protect you and to protect your feelings, but just because you think it, that doesn’t mean that it is true. It’s just your mind trying to be protective.
This is when you have to take extra steps to increase your awareness of your thought pattern through Cognitive Defusion. Cognitive defusion is letting thoughts come and go without reacting to them or holding on to them. It is helpful to practice desensitizing your anxiety response to negative thinking patterns through techniques like mindfulness and mediation.
I hope you have gained a little insight on how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected. Comment below! Tell us if you find CBT helpful or what works better for you.
Here is a free CBT worksheet that focuses on increasing your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for anyone who would find it helpful.