by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB
The final part of our three-part series of articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ explores some examples of cognitive distortions, unhelpful frames of thinking which are common to most of us at one time or another.
Many of the negative thought patterns you probably experience involve a cognitive distortion, or your mind putting “spin” on the events that happen to you.
See if you can recognize any of these cognitive distortions within yourself as you go through this section.
This is an example of “all-or-nothing reasoning”.
Another example would be “I always get things wrong.”
The key characteristic of this cognitive distortion is a word like “always” or “never”. When reframing all-or-nothing reasoning, it can be helpful to think of counterexamples which prove that always and never are just not true.
An example of a reframe: “While it’s unfortunate that this person doesn’t listen to my ideas, many other people do. In fact, just yesterday I had several people agree with my proposal about ___. I wonder how I can explain my ideas differently or understand what is causing x not to hear what I am saying”
One of the most common cognitive distortions is fortune telling or predicting the future in a negative way.
These types of thoughts can cause serious anxiety, and it is extremely useful to be able to control them. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that we literally don’t have the power to predict the future. This is not to ignore ‘gut instinct’ but often these negative thoughts go way beyond gut instinct into the bounds of meticulously crafted stories of the future based on not much more than fear.
In such moments we need to remind ourselves that we are crafting the story that we are telling ourselves about the future and that we can subject it to analysis. It can also help to use methods such as mindfulness to keep ourselves grounded in the moment and to realise that we cannot live in the future, only in today.
An example of a reframe: “I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I will find a way to deal with whatever comes along. In the meantime, I can plan those elements that I can control and live in today”
This is an example of discounting the positive or minimizing the significance of your accomplishments or something else positive in your life.
Sometimes we have being doing something for so long that we forget about all the time, effort and learning that went into us becoming accomplished at it. Other times we can be working from a script that says we must be modest and ‘not boast’ which holds us back from stating what we can do well.
Many of my most accomplished clients have previously run scripts in their minds about ‘not showing off’, ‘everyone else is smarter’, ‘why would they listen to me when I am only….’ all of which comments are often bundled together into Imposter Syndrome.
The danger is that if we say these self-deprecating things some people may believe us and then discount our contribution. Even more importantly, if we say this to ourselves, we do not celebrate our successes and over time begin to believe ourselves and thus reduce our sense of self-confidence.
One way to reframe this is to remind yourself what it took to get to the level of competence where you are now. Also spend at least some time focusing on your strengths as well as areas for development.
Over-generalization is another common cognitive distortion that can wreak havoc on our minds.
Here, we take a negative situation as implying that all sorts of other unrelated negative things will happen because of it.
We start the day falling over the cat, its raining outside, we get into work soaking wet to find the computer won’t work and so on. This creates a spiral of thinking which can pretty much determine that our day won’t go well as we will be on the lookout for more things ‘going wrong’.
To counter an over-generalization, you need to put the event in perspective by recognizing it as an isolated incident.
An example reframe: “Although ____ went wrong, I will now deal with the challenge that it presents. The rest of the day I will handle as it proceeds”
Sometimes we like to pin the blame for something going wrong squarely on ourselves.
While you should take responsibility for yourself and your actions, you don’t need to accept blame for things that are not your fault. Chances are there were some factors beyond your control.
An example reframe: “I contributed to the problem here, and I accept full responsibility for the part that is my fault. Nevertheless, there were factors beyond my control, so I will not blame myself for everything that went wrong. I’ll learn from what went wrong, try to analyse the situation, and develop solutions and strategies to improve. I am human and we all make mistakes as part of learning.”
Your limiting belief is putting conditions on your success. Roadblocks are continuously put up to keep you away from your goal, keeping it just out of reach and decreasing your motivation.
The roadblocks can point to some underlying fear of achieving something or fear of getting started. These need to be examined and explored.
A couple examples of this type of thought would be “Once I lose ten pounds I’ll be happier”, or “I can’t quit my [awful, boring] job and pursue my passion until I have more money saved up”.
A potential reframe: “I have devised some clear goals and have a plan towards achieving them, so I will ask my friend to support me to keep on track, get started and do this one day at a time.”
This thought pops up usually as a response to a larger than average stressor.
You take the fact that you are experiencing something challenging, and you magnify it to the point of impossibility.
This is an important personal story to pay attention to, and do something about, as it usually means that you need to stop, really think, and examine the situation that you are in. The phrase itself, if not challenged, can stop you from breaking the issue down into smaller and likely more manageable chunks. As the saying goes ‘you cannot eat the elephant whole’.
I recommend that when you have this type of thought, you pause before you reframe and do something to help reduce the immediate stress. In the moment you could pause, take five slow, deep breaths, and then reframe possibly as follows…
Example of a reframe: “I’ve faced many challenges before. I can break this one down into manageable chunks and get started on this a bit at a time.”
So, there you have it: in this series of three articles we have focused on the elements you need to know about the incredible technique of reframing your thoughts.
We’ve covered a lot in the past 3 articles, so a quick summary might be useful.
There is much more information available about reframing than I have been able to outline in our three-part series and I would be happy to discuss in further detail
It is a technique that has tended in the past to be used in clinical psychology settings when someone’s thinking has become extremely negative. This valuable technique can be applied in all settings and to help us keep mentally well rather than only when we are in dire straits. I believe it is a useful skill in all aspects of our lives.
Indeed, the technique is being used much more often now in sports and business coaching. I use reframing extensively in my coaching practice with high achieving executives to develop even better performance and remove thinking ‘roadblocks’. I also use it to ensure they understand the power of the stories that they tell themselves and their teams about what is possible and what they can achieve.
The key is for everyone to understand that they are the storyteller of their life and can change the stories they tell themselves (and others) about themselves, other people or their situations to help them make their lives happier, healthier and more productive.
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
Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020