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Cognitive restructuring is one of the psychotherapeutic processes of learning to identify and after dispute wrong or irrational thoughts. It is one of the methods one can use to both notice and undo negative thinking patterns.
It works in a variety of contexts, whether ridding yourself of your judgmental inner voice, emotional reasoning, split thinking, magnification, and the like. The setting where cognitive restructuring techniques mostly get used is in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), primarily when dealing with mental health disorders.
The goal of cognitive restructuring is to rid oneself of the emotional suffering that comes with negative thinking. It is also meant to foster an environment where positive thinking can thrive and transform our lives for the better.
It is essentially retraining your brain to think healthy thoughts. You don’t need to have mental health issues to use cognitive restructuring; even those struggling with immense negative self-talk and thinking patterns can benefit.
How cognitive restructuring works
cognitive restructuring is based on the Lazarus Cognitive Mediational Theory of Emotion. Richard Lazarus came up with a theory aiming to explain how stress, emotion, and cognition are intertwined.
His primary focus was indeed on what he called “appraisal.” It is when a person has a physical reaction based on a subconscious assessment they’ve done on a given situation and the meaning they attach to it.
For example, when you hear a loud bang, based on the evaluation you’ve done in your mind and the sense you’ve connected to the sound, you’ll either freeze, run, or hide.
To give it more context base on cognitive restructuring, Lazarus implies that our emotional reactions are as a result of what we think about an event, and not based on the experience itself. We, therefore, can change how we feel simply by changing how we think.
Why cognitive restructuring is crucial
Allows mental organization
When you have a flood of negative thoughts and accompanying emotions, you can easily feel that your mind is jumbled up, and you’re unable to think. With cognitive restructuring, you can sort your thoughts in a manner that gives you more peace of mind.
Helps you calm down
In the process of organizing your thoughts and emotions, you inevitably slow down your racing mind. When you categorize and group your thoughts, you eliminate the overflow of feelings attached to each idea. Things stop feeling too being and overwhelming, and inevitably, you slow down.
When you’ve organized your thoughts and are calmer, you will, as a result, gain a heightened awareness. You will quickly begin to notice thinking patterns and habits, as well as their coinciding emotion. It is in the realization of how your mind works that you can start to make the necessary changes.
You’ll be more in control
Noticing negative self-talk gives you more control in that you do have the power to swap your thoughts for positive ones. As you do this, you will notice a transformation in your emotions from bad to good. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to perform cognitive restructuring.
You become rational
Control over your thoughts invites you to be reasonable. You begin to identify, examine, and dispute wrong thinking and irrational thoughts. It is here were cognitive restructuring aids you in seeing errors in your thinking and leading you to make the corresponding corrections. When you are rational, your moods equally regulated.
You become less reactive: With cognitive restructuring, when you hear a loud bang, you can still overwrite your first instinct if it’s negative. You could, rationally, conclude that it would be a car backfiring or a child popping a balloon. It allows you to wait for more cues instead of merely reacting all the time.
That also applies to your negative thoughts. Being less reactive means, you do have time to reflect on your thoughts and better understand how your mind works. From there, you can cultivate new thought patterns and how you respond to them.
Cognitive restructuring techniques
Let’s now get into the methods. Here, we’ll list a few ways in which you can use cognitive restructuring to managed negative thoughts and emotions.
Stop when you notice you’re having a negative emotion or reaction
When our minds and bodies react negatively to something, it’s an indication that something is wrong. Next time you’re feeling angry, sad, anxious, grieved, etc. instead of indulging the feeling, pause.
Label the impression that you have, and then begin to look for the source. Approaching your emotions with wonder, firstly, reduced the intensity. The second thing is you get into a position where you can reason about the feeling itself and move to the next step.
Identify the trigger
Knowing what you’re feeling is not enough. The next step is to identify what set it off in the first place. Triggers are things that happen both externally and internally that we then react to. The best trick to locating your trigger is to use the questions who, what, where, and when.
You can try to find out who you were with when you got the overwhelming emotion, what happened when it started, and where it took place. Nothing is too small to ignore. If it comes to your mind, then it’s worth considering.
Notice your automatic thoughts
Automatic throughs are those thoughts that spring into our minds immediately something happens. After identifying the trigger, you want to examine what your initial idea was. If you’re reading this, then it’s likely that your initial reaction is adverse.
Look at what they are and try to think back to other times you had a similar thought reaction. You’ll soon notice a pattern. For cognitive restructuring to work, you have to become more aware of your automatic thoughts and examining them. The sooner you do the latter, the sooner you can change them.
Notice your emotional reaction
Our interpretation of our thoughts being with them an attached emotion. With cognitive restructuring, you’ll start noticing the types of feelings you have and also their intensity. Use a scale of one to ten and rate where you’re at. From there, you can gauge what thoughts you need to work on the most.
Come up with alternative thoughts
The next step is then to come up with counter ideas to your automatic reaction. It is where the challenging, disputing, or negating of the wrong thinking patterns come in. There are near endless positive alternatives that you can adopt, and with that, your emotional reaction will also tend toward the rational.
When you introduce other ways of thinking, you quickly notice that your initial thought was likely wrong. Using the previous example, it can’t be a gunshot because you’re at a garage. The likely reason for the loud bang is a car backfiring. Have multiple alternatives to further tapper down the initial thought.
Rate your current emotional reaction
When you finally get to this last technique, you’ll notice that your emotions are calmer. Even if the situation did warrant your automatic thought and response, you can still manage your feelings and act instead of reacting.
Cognitive restructuring is a process you have to follow continually, and likely, for the rest of your life. It is a long-term commitment, but worth the peace it brings.