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The world is full of inspirational quotes lately. As the power of positive thinking becomes clearer, people are constantly posting them on Instagram or sharing them in some other form. I see such platitudes multiple times a day and I always try to internalize their messages. But if you’re anything like me, looking on the bright side of things isn’t always easy. Positive quotes have merit, and they’re important; it’s just that our brains don’t always cooperate as we try to believe them. Reading a positive message doesn’t necessarily help us beat out negativity. It takes more than that. Something that does help is working on reframing our negative thoughts.
What is reframing?
One thing I’ve worked on a lot in therapy is identifying unhelpful thoughts and consciously trying to replace them with healthier, more productive ones. It’s called cognitive reframing, and it helps us understand things differently. It involves taking the way you inherently view situations and events and figuring out how to colour them with positivity.
You can call it perspective if you want, or perhaps optimism, but it’s a valuable tool to have in your box of coping skills.
When you start to think of things differently, your behaviours start to match the change accordingly.
Another thing reframing does is help us to accept what’s happening or what we’re feeling.
We’re allowed to feel however we feel, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it consume us. Reframing is a way to discontinue rumination and obsessive thoughts that lead our feelings to consume us.
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We can reframe things in order to help us realize that there are always many ways to view the same problem.
Knowing you have options, that you aren’t locked into one thing specifically, might make you feel a little freer.
Why is reframing our thoughts important?
We have about 70,000 thoughts each day. In an ideal world, there would be more good ones than negative ones. But for some reason, it can be so much easier to let ourselves be pessimistic.
I think this is particularly true for those of us with mental health issues or with eating disorders because of how much energy we use fighting ourselves in our own heads.
For example, we might fail a test and immediately begin telling ourselves that we’re worthless and never going to be successful. We can grapple with the thought, but I know when I’m in one of those situations, my brain just goes there. I know logically that I’m being negative, but it’s automatic.
It goes without saying that falling prey to negativity is bad for us.
It’s detrimental to our emotional wellbeing, makes us feel worse when we don’t have to, and makes us suffer needless worry. Not to mention it just isn’t fun to be stuck thinking negative things.
More than that, negativity begets more negativity.
It rewires our brains to get stuck in the patterns of that mentality and therefore have a harder time being positive. Basically, it’s a cycle. So in order to overcome it, we have to break free from it entirely.
Reframing is a great solution.
It rewires our brains, but in a healthy way, by forcing us to think around the negativity. It frees us from limiting beliefs and since our thoughts affect both how we feel and how we act, reframing them can actually change our lives.
Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all connected, so to have power over one gives us power over the others.
It takes practice, but the benefits are worth it. That’s why it’s so important.
Examples of Reframing
Sometimes it can be as simple as turning “today is a bad day” into “I can turn this day around.”
It could be more complex. Maybe someone was rude to you so you ruminate on it all day, or blame yourself for having done something wrong. You can reframe the thought by realizing he or she might have been having a bad day and their behaviour had nothing to do with you.
Or maybe you had a disagreement with a friend. Your automatic thought might be “They hate me and I’m going to lose all my friends.” That thought won’t do you any good, and let’s face it, our negative beliefs are usually completely wrong. Anxiety tells us so many lies. Luckily, you can reframe the thought by telling yourself the disagreement is a chance to work through an issue you’re having.
How do we work on reframing negative thoughts?
1. Observe Impartially
One way to work on this is to be an impartial observer of your thoughts. People often try to visualize negative thoughts as clouds floating by. They are there, you can recognize them, but they can just come and go freely.
In the case of someone being rude to you. Examining the situation as an outsider might help you see that a single interaction is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and therefore prevent you from being consumed by it.
2. Look at the evidence
In the case of a disagreement between friends, reframing can happen by looking at the evidence, not at your fears. Therapists call it reality-checking yourself. Has your friend done anything that indicates she actually hates you? Or are you just afraid that she does?
3. Be aware of any disordered voice
Reframing has proven to be crucial when eating disordered thoughts pop into my brain. Recognizing the disordered voice as separate from my rational thoughts allows me an opportunity to decide what I want to do with them. It gives me a good chance of changing “I can’t eat this” to “eating this will nourish my body even if it’s difficult to do.”
I’ve also always found journaling and keeping records of my thoughts to be helpful (Check out these journaling prompts that I use!), so write it down if you need to! Keep track of your automatic thoughts versus how you can think of them differently.
5. Play the opposite game
If all else fails, just defiantly think the opposite! If you find yourself saying “I’m never going to make it,” flip it around and tell yourself “I am absolutely going to make it.”
6. Be careful what you tell yourself
It’s also important to remember that events and situations can’t create feelings on their own. What we tell ourselves about those events and situations can. You give meaning to everything that happens in your life by the way you look at it.
You can do it!
In my experience, reframing has helped me because it gives me something else to focus on in moments of struggle. And now that I’ve gotten into the habit of identifying and replacing unhelpful thoughts, it’s gotten easier.
Putting this into practice is a process. It is something you learn continually.
You might not be able to completely stop negative thoughts from popping into your head, but knowing that you don’t have to give them power is so important.
Knowing you can focus on seeing things in a better light is absolutely life-altering. So even when it’s hard to stop the cycle of negativity, keep trying.
Give your brain a workout every single day by actively trying to reframe your thoughts. Eventually, you’ll build up the muscle and reap the tremendous benefits of doing so. Good luck!
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