by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB
In the first part of my three articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ I set out the principles of reframing. In this part two of the series I move on to the all-important ‘How’ to reframe your thinking.
At its simplest, reframing involves just two steps: observing a negative thought, and then replacing it with a positive (or more helpful) one.
If you have never tried to pick up on your negative thoughts before, implementing the techniques in this section might shock you. As with most people, negative thoughts likely pop up in your mind multiple times per day, often follow the same few patterns, and usually sneak by unquestioned by you.
These unquestioned patterns of negative thinking are not helpful to you, or to others if you are sharing your negative stories with them or are in a position of leadership influence when your story may become integrated into your team members stories and create a negative shared ‘reality’.
Here are a couple of ways to help you observe your negative thoughts.
(a) Keep a thought journal. Even if you get nothing else from this series of articles, you will increase your self-awareness through keeping a thought journal. If you decide to do this, prepare by keeping a notepad in your pocket or bag so it is always readily available. You can alternatively take notes on your phone or tablet or, do as one of my clients does and send yourself a text or email.
Negative thoughts usually trigger negative emotions. One way to alert yourself to negative thinking, so that you can make a note of it, is to use the negative emotion as an alert and then track back from the emotion to what was the story you told yourself which prompted the negative emotion. Then capture it. For example you may begin to feel frustrated and track it back to stories such as ‘they always get this wrong’ or ‘I can’t trust my team to do anything’ or ‘why am I so stupid’. Recording your negative thoughts might not stop the emotions in the moment (although it can definitely do this with practice over time) but noting them allows you to analyse them later, notice themes and identify the most common problem areas or limiting beliefs so that you can decide what to work on.
(b) The Rubber Band Technique. This method may feel a little silly at first, but I guarantee it is one of the fastest ways to change a behaviour. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. It should be tight enough that it stays on and can make a nice snap when pulled, but loose enough that it is comfortable and won’t break. Any time you have a negative thought, give the rubber band a snap. Like writing it down, this stops a negative thought in its tracks immediately, but it also conditions you to notice them more and begin to alert you to where a reframe might be useful or needed.
It can be tempting to ignore this first step, but it is important. Observing your own thoughts (or getting support from an expert to observe them with you) is fundamental to being able to reframe them successfully.
This is the key part of reframing…
Before moving on, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the previous section. If you haven’t been observing your negative thoughts, you simply will not be as successful at replacing them.
Here are some valuable tactics to help you replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
If you really want to succeed with this, you need to work out what your most common negative thoughts are and develop reframes ready and available whenever you have that thought, and which over time will replace the old frame.
Consistently applied, you will find yourself instinctively thinking in a more helpful way in situations that you had previously limiting thoughts and beliefs about. This is hugely liberating!
So, in this second part of our two-part series we have discussed how to identify which negative stories you might want to ‘reframe’ and then how you can replace them with more helpful ones.
In part 3 of our three-part series I will be covering some common patterns of thinking that most people have found their thoughts falling into at one time or another. They are called cognitive distortions, and I certainly recognise one or two in myself!
Should you be interested in discussing this article, how to reframe for yourself, how to introduce the principles of reframing to your teams or across your organisation I can be contacted with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org