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Cognitive Re-framing: A Useful Skill for Managing Life

Updated on July 6, 2019

All of us do cognitive re-framing unknowingly when we find ourselves in dire straits since we learn it while growing up. This helps us get out of the situation. Many a time, our family member, friend or an acquaintance also helps us do cognitive re-framing in many dire circumstances. We will try to know cognitive re-framing from a psychological perspective. To do so, we will understand what cognition is.

Cognition is the ability to process information through perception, knowledge acquired through experience and our personal characteristics. We use all of this information to evaluate and interpret our world.

In other words, it is the ability to assimilate and process the information that we receive from different sources such as perception, experience, beliefs, etc. and convert them into knowledge.

In most of the situations, our behavior is based on our perception of what reality is, not reality itself. Our perception is widely influenced by past experiences, motives, personality, and values and attitudes. Our perception, experience, beliefs etc. vary widely and, therefore, our cognition is vastly different from others about the same situation.

Cognitive re-framing -

All situations that happen to us in life have no inherent meaning. We are the one who assigns a meaning, looking at a situation from a certain perspective. With cognitive re-framing, we can change the way we look at something and consequently change how we experience it.

Cognitive re-framing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts, and emotions to find more positive alternatives. It refers to almost any conscious shift in a person’s mental perspective. It is commonly confused with cognitive restructuring, which is the act of changing one’s mindset with the help of a positive suggestion to strengthen oneself.

A major distinguishing feature between cognitive re-framing and cognitive restructuring is the awareness, i.e. cognitive re-framing can happen subconsciously, while cognitive restructuring, as something done at the explicit behest of a therapist, is conscious.

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated negative thoughts, which are not supported by a rational thought process. Therefore, distortions are a problem which may be solved by cognitive re-framing.

Cognitive re-framing entails the understanding of three specific principles as mentioned below:

  • The events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, we assign them a meaning based on how we interpret the event.
  • Every thought has a hidden structure formed by our underlying beliefs and assumptions that are implied by our thought.
  • There is a positive intention behind every negative thought.

How to perform cognitive re-framing? –

The following four steps are required to perform cognitive re-framing:

1 - Recognize the thinking patterns –

The first step in cognitive re-framing is to understand your negative thinking patterns, which cause cognitive distortions. Once you have recognized them, you can prepare the groundwork for changing them

2 - Be mindful of thoughts –

The next step is to catch yourself when you're slipping into overly negative patterns of thinking. One thing you can do is just become more mindful of your thoughts, as though you're an observer. When you catch negative thinking patterns, just note them at first. So whenever you have the same patterns, try to change them into positive ones.

Another helpful tool is regular meditation, where you can do to quiet your mind and examine your thoughts. Once you become more of an observer, it's easier to notice your thoughts rather than remaining caught up in them.

3 - Try to interpret differently –

Whenever you notice negative thoughts, examine them to find the truth and accuracy or lack thereof of these thoughts. Instead of viewing things the way you always do, challenge every negative thought. Try to adopt thoughts that fit your situation and reflect a more positive outlook.

4 - Replace the thoughts with positive ones –

Whenever you're looking at something negative, see if you can use the self-talk to change negative into positive thoughts. When you're looking at a potentially stressful situation, see if you can view it as a challenge versus a threat.

Look for the 'gift' in each situation. Try to see a situation in such a way that it relates to the facts of your situation but is less negative and more positive.

The usefulness of cognitive re-framing –

Although we do cognitive re-framing quite naturally, we don't always do it in helpful ways. Therefore, we may have to recruit the help of a psychologist, who can do it better. It is useful in the following three ways:

  • Encourages positivity – Cognitive restructuring focuses on creating positive outcomes. A psychologist can use cognitive restructuring to help us choose the thoughts that will benefit us most.
  • Helps to be more realistic – It makes us gain a better understanding of the real situation and how to cope with it.
  • Gives a new life skill - As the psychologist takes us through the process of consciously re-framing our thoughts, we learn a new skill that can help us now and throughout the rest of our life.

The Bottom Line –

All of us face stressors in our daily life. The way we view what we're experiencing can maximize or minimize it. Cognitive re-framing is a time-honored psychological method of looking at things in ways that decrease stress and promote a greater sense of peace.

It is worthwhile learning how to perform cognitive re-framing. If necessary, you can take the help of a psychologist to learn to do it properly. By mastering the skill, we can dramatically change our life, filling it with positivity.


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