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3 Steps to Reframing Cognitive Distortions

Have you ever heard of Cognitive Reframing? This article from betterhelp.com states that cognitive reframing is "the process of shifting your perspective by replacing negative or flawed thought patterns with more realistic and positive ones to help improve your mood, mental health, and general well-being." 

While seeking guidance and support from a trained and licensed mental health therapist is helpful, it is also important to know that many people can engage in cognitive reframing independently as part of their self-care and well-being practice.

Cognitive distortions are flawed, irrational, and unhelpful thought patterns that can cause negative emotions, behaviours, and responses. Some examples of cognitive distortions include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking, where you are left imagining or seeing two oppositional outcomes for any action. This kind of cognitive distortion can trigger perpetual feelings of failure and inadequacy.
  • Overgeneralizing, where you take information from one situation or context and apply it to other problems. This kind of thinking can trigger feelings of hopelessness and inhibit problem-solving. 

Cognitive distortions don't just affect your mood; they affect how you relate to others by creating listening blocks that can deepen negative emotions and behaviours for everyone.

Martha Davis, Kim Paleg, and Patrick Fanning, who created the Messages Workbook, name 12 blocks to listening. The blocks influence the way you speak and listen to others. The result is a continuous cycle of emotions, behaviours, and responses that feed your feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Here are two common listening blocks that arise from cognitive distortions:

  1. Mind reading. With this listening block, you become so preoccupied with deciphering intonations and subtle cues of a conversation and matching those things up with your assumptions about what the other person is ‘really thinking’ that you do not pay much attention to what they say. Mind reading is a cognitive distortion closely linked to feelings of social anxiety and habits of negative rumination.
  2. Filtering. When you filter, you pay attention to some things and not others. Filtering allows you to fixate on what you choose to notice or to pay only enough attention to sense if there is emotional danger. After that, your mind wanders, you stop listening, and you only ‘hear’ things that support or threaten your sense of comfort. Filtering lets you focus on one element of a conversation and not another. It creates a lopsided and often negative view of how things are, which leads to other kinds of cognitive distortions like all-or-nothing thinking.

Here are three ways to practice cognitive reframing to improve your relational, communicative, and stress response patterns.

  1. Be aware of your listening blocks. Davis, Paleg, and Fanning identify 12 blocks. They include comparing, judging, identifying, derailing and more. Get to know these blocks so you can be mindful of how they appear in your interactions. Learning which ones you use more frequently and under what circumstances is also helpful.
  2. Understand the relationship between your listening blocks and thought patterns. You can do this with the help of a therapist or coach or work on it independently by spending time with your thought patterns, learning to see them for what they are (patterns) and cultivating the attitude that will help you work with them. Consistent mindfulness practices, such as the ones we teach in the Mindfulness Learning & Practice Bundle, can help you accomplish this in an empowering and trauma-sensitive way.
  3. Develop your skills for reframing. Reframing is consciously changing how you view events, memories, situations, and conversations and replacing negative or flawed thought patterns with more realistic and positive ones. While conversations with a trusted support person such as a social worker or therapist are ideal, mindful journaling is an accessible way to identify thought patterns and the events that trigger them. To be effective, journaling should be consistent but flexible, and the practice is best supported by other tools and techniques that will help you practice reframing. For example, in the Messages section of the Firefly Journal, you can use the thought bubbles to write down a flawed or negative thought and then write an alternate, more constructive view that counters the negative one.

The bottom line:

By becoming aware of your cognitive distortions, you can cultivate an awareness practice that helps you notice, process, and reframe your thoughts and behaviour patterns. Reframing is an essential practice that helps you consciously change your view of events, memories, situations, and conversations so you can experience improved stress responses and fewer personal and interpersonal conflicts. 

Consistent journaling and mindfulness practices are low-barrier ways to engage in cognitive reframing. Because both practices teach you to bring awareness to your emotions, behaviours, and responses in constructive and non-judgemental ways, you can grow perspectives that help you improve your mood, mental health, and general well-being. 

The Reyou online community provides easy-to-access tools, courses, sessions, and practices that support cognitive reframing. Our inclusive, trauma-sensitive, and evidence-based approach to journaling, mindfulness, and storytelling offers multiple opportunities for self-paced learning that lets you mindfully reset, recenter, and reframe.

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