Sometimes, we experience our thoughts racing or we draw harmful conclusions that aren't necessarily true when certain things happen in our day-to-day, or when our emotions are heightened.
For example, you may have a pending deadline at work, the subway commute may be waaaay too long, or you might have gotten into an argument with someone that you deeply care about. In these moments, you may notice your mind fast-forward to the worst possible case scenario. It can be really challenging to pay attention to how you feel and what you might be thinking when certain events occur, especially when you might be running on autopilot.
Today, we are so grateful to hear from Liz Beecroft, licensed social worker and mental health advocate, about her perspective on the importance of reframing our thinking, and important tips and guidance about taking the first steps toward thinking and feeling better.
The path to positive thinking and setting happiness as a priority is something many people strive to be on, yet might not have the tools to stay on. Struggling with depressive, anxious, or negative thoughts can often be a barrier to understanding that it’s not always about what happens to you, but how you frame these situations.
The idea that you can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it is a good place to start by understanding that it is in our own power to see a situation through a certain frame.
Negative thinking patterns, also known as cognitive distortions, are recurring and automatic thought processes that tend to be irrational, self-defeating, and skewed toward the negative. These patterns can impact your emotions, behaviors, and overall well-being and they often lead to a distorted view of reality that can have a significant impact on our physical and mental health
Recognizing and challenging these negative thinking patterns is essential for improving your mental and emotional well-being. By becoming aware of these distortions and learning to reframe your thoughts in a more balanced and rational way, you can reduce anxiety, depression, and self-criticism while promoting a more positive and constructive mindset. Common negative thinking patterns include:
This pattern involves envisioning the worst possible outcomes in a situation, even when such outcomes are unlikely to occur. It can lead to excessive worry and anxiety.
This pattern involves viewing situations in extreme, black and white terms. You see things as either perfect or a complete failure, with no middle ground. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and self-criticism.
This pattern involves assuming that you know what others are thinking about you, and often, assuming their thoughts are negative. It can lead to social anxiety and self-consciousness.
Overgeneralization occurs when you draw broad, negative conclusions about your life based on a single negative event. For example, if you fail at one thing, you may conclude that you are a failure in all aspects of your life.
In this pattern, you assume that you are the cause of external events or the behaviors of others. You may blame yourself for events that are beyond your control, leading to unwarranted guilt and self-blame.
Reframing is a cognitive restructuring technique that helps transform negative thinking patterns into more positive and constructive thought processes. It involves examining your initial negative interpretation of a situation and consciously choosing to view it from a different, more balanced perspective. Engage in reframing by consciously reinterpreting a negative thought. For example, if you think, "I'm a failure," reframe it to "I've faced challenges, but I'm learning and growing."
Using applications such as “emotional accounting” and “cognitive reframing” from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) model, are ways to apply this idea when you find yourself involved with negative thinking patterns. Emotional accounting is the process of transforming the negative thoughts to be more positive whereas cognitive reframing allows the broader picture to be transformed from a negative interpretation of what is happening to you, to a more positive interpretation.
The first thing to consider is having an understanding of how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected. When a triggering event happens, we tend to have an automatic thought about this event (often times related to our past experiences or irrational core beliefs). This thought that we have influences the way that we then feel emotionally, which then affects our behaviors. When people are caught in negative thinking patterns, it’s common for the feelings associated with that thought to be negative (sadness, regret, despair, depression, anger, etc). When we begin to feel this negative emotion, our behavior subsequently leads to inaction, outbursts, crying, isolation, as well as other behaviors we wish wouldn’t occur.
CBT encourages self-monitoring of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Focus on your awareness of your negative thinking traps. Be mindful and try your best to recognize negative thoughts and try to describe the situation as accurate as possible. Notice what thoughts make you feel a way that you do not like and take a mental note of this. Also take notice of your feelings. Be aware of the physical sensations that arise in your body. Some negative thoughts will just pass through without affecting our daily functioning, but if you notice physiological sensations in your body, that is a good indicator to try and reframe the thought.
Mindfulness involves paying non-judgmental attention to the present moment. Mindfulness meditation can help you become more aware of your thought processes. By becoming more mindful, you can observe your thoughts as they arise without immediate judgment. This awareness can help you catch negative thinking patterns early. When you find yourself caught up in negative thoughts, engage in activities that absorb your attention and provide a sense of enjoyment, such as reading, art, or exercise. By addressing negative thought patterns, you can also alleviate emotional distress.
Literally, ask yourself questions to get a better understanding of how to cognitively cope with this negative thought. When you identify a negative thought that comes to mind, some questions you can ask yourself are: Is this thought 100% accurate? Is this thought helpful? What advice would I give to my best friend if they were going through a similar situation? What are the chances of this thought coming true? What will I think of this in a week? Could there be any other thoughts besides this one? What will I gain from accepting this thought? What will I lose?
The goal is to find a better alternative view of what is happening to you. Use your personal power to come up with a “redemptive narrative.” A redemptive narrative is where you are able to tell the story of your situation in which the tough events also bring something positive. The positive may take some time, but it’s important to see a positive outlook.
Once you've identified negative thought patterns and distortions, CBT guides you in restructuring these thoughts. You learn to replace irrational, self-defeating thoughts with more balanced, constructive, and realistic ones. CBT doesn't focus solely on thoughts; it also addresses behaviors. You work with your therapist to identify how negative thought patterns lead to specific behaviors, such as avoidance or withdrawal. Then, you develop strategies to change these behaviors.
Replace self-criticism with self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you'd offer to a friend facing a similar situation. Remind yourself that it's okay to make mistakes and experience setbacks.
CBT equips you with problem-solving skills to address real-life challenges. You learn to approach difficulties with a more rational and solution-oriented mindset. Homework assignments are common in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as it is designed to practice new thinking and behavioral patterns between sessions. These assignments reinforce the skills learned during therapy.
In CBT, you work with your therapist to develop strategies for preventing relapse and maintaining positive thought and behavioral patterns. CBT fosters a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy by teaching you how to take control of your thoughts and behaviors. This can lead to increased self-confidence and a greater sense of mastery over negative thinking patterns.
If negative thinking patterns persist and affect your daily life, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance and techniques to help you manage these patterns effectively. Therapists trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is a common form of therapy for those with negative thinking patterns. This therapeutic approach equips you with valuable tools and techniques to challenge and reframe negative thoughts.
By incorporating these strategies into your daily life, you can build a robust toolkit for managing and reframing negative thinking patterns. These techniques promote emotional well-being, resilience, and a more positive and constructive mindset, ultimately enhancing your overall quality of life.
Restructuring and reframing negative thinking patterns takes practice and awareness. This is not something that will happen overnight, but if you remember to stay mindful of the negative thoughts you have, you will start to see that you are in control of how you feel!
MyWellbeing encourages individuals to seek the help of a therapist when managing negative thinking patterns. Therapists can provide professional insight, a structured approach, and a safe, supportive space for individuals to explore and reframe their thought patterns. Customized treatment, skill development, and emotional regulation are key elements of therapy, promoting long-term well-being and self-empowerment.
With a therapist's guidance, individuals can effectively manage negative thinking patterns and experience a more balanced and optimistic mindset. If you're unsure about how to get started, check out our ultimate guide to starting therapy and match with a therapist that specializes in supporting others like you in managing negative thinking patterns.
We hope these tips have been helpful for you to begin to learning how to work with your thoughts. Thank you to Liz Beecroft, LMSW for your invaluable perspective today.
To see Liz talking through these tips as close to IRL as possible, check out our Instagram stories (and highlights on this and other topics) @findmywellbeing.
What topics do you want to hear about most? We’d love to source experts to share more perspective with you. Let us know at [email protected].
Liz Beecroft is a LMSW and content creator based in Brooklyn, NY. Liz works full time as a psychotherapist for a foster care agency, using a trauma-informed lens while drawing from theoretical frameworks such as CBT and FFT. Outside of her full time job, Liz uses her platform to share her personal style, love of sneakers and passion for mental health advocacy by creating an open dialogue and transparent voice that speaks to her followers about being genuine and authentic on social media. Contact Liz at [email protected] or follow her on social @lizbcroft