Overcoming negative self-talk and creating motivation using reframing
by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB
In the first part of my three articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ I set out the principles of reframing. In this part two of the series I move on to the all-important ‘How’ to reframe your thinking.
At its simplest, reframing involves just two steps: observing a negative thought, and then replacing it with a positive (or more helpful) one.
Step 1 - Observing Your Negative Thoughts
If you have never tried to pick up on your negative thoughts before, implementing the techniques in this section might shock you. As with most people, negative thoughts likely pop up in your mind multiple times per day, often follow the same few patterns, and usually sneak by unquestioned by you.
These unquestioned patterns of negative thinking are not helpful to you, or to others if you are sharing your negative stories with them or are in a position of leadership influence when your story may become integrated into your team members stories and create a negative shared ‘reality’.
Here are a couple of ways to help you observe your negative thoughts.
(a) Keep a thought journal. Even if you get nothing else from this series of articles, you will increase your self-awareness through keeping a thought journal. If you decide to do this, prepare by keeping a notepad in your pocket or bag so it is always readily available. You can alternatively take notes on your phone or tablet or, do as one of my clients does and send yourself a text or email.
Negative thoughts usually trigger negative emotions. One way to alert yourself to negative thinking, so that you can make a note of it, is to use the negative emotion as an alert and then track back from the emotion to what was the story you told yourself which prompted the negative emotion. Then capture it. For example you may begin to feel frustrated and track it back to stories such as ‘they always get this wrong’ or ‘I can’t trust my team to do anything’ or ‘why am I so stupid’. Recording your negative thoughts might not stop the emotions in the moment (although it can definitely do this with practice over time) but noting them allows you to analyse them later, notice themes and identify the most common problem areas or limiting beliefs so that you can decide what to work on.
(b) The Rubber Band Technique. This method may feel a little silly at first, but I guarantee it is one of the fastest ways to change a behaviour. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. It should be tight enough that it stays on and can make a nice snap when pulled, but loose enough that it is comfortable and won’t break. Any time you have a negative thought, give the rubber band a snap. Like writing it down, this stops a negative thought in its tracks immediately, but it also conditions you to notice them more and begin to alert you to where a reframe might be useful or needed.
It can be tempting to ignore this first step, but it is important. Observing your own thoughts (or getting support from an expert to observe them with you) is fundamental to being able to reframe them successfully.
Step 2 - Replacing Negative Thoughts with Positive (or more helpful) Ones.
This is the key part of reframing…
Before moving on, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the previous section. If you haven’t been observing your negative thoughts, you simply will not be as successful at replacing them.
Here are some valuable tactics to help you replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Use milder wording. This one is easy, and you can start doing it immediately. Words do matter, and if your thought is deliberately reframed and worded with a milder negative, you won’t feel as bad. For example, if you were to think “I really hate that person”, you would feel worse than if you thought “I’m not keen on how that person behaves”.
- Ask yourself: “What is the best way for me to accomplish this?” When you are facing a challenge or fear, you can ask yourself this question to help you focus on the solution rather than the problem. The phrase “best way” implies that there are multiple ways around the problem and focuses on the positive.
- Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this?” Now, instead of having a problem, you have a way to improve yourself. Every challenge is also an opportunity to learn, so take advantage of it.
- Challenge your assumptions. Try to work out what the frame behind your thought is. Most often you have a limiting belief that is encouraging you to think negatively about your situation. This limiting belief is based on assumptions you have made that may not be true or as bad as you have stated them to be. Find reasons why they are not true, and you chip away at the beliefs causing the negative thoughts. This is the most powerful long-term reframing technique, and it is far more effective if you’ve been keeping a thought journal.
This is the work that I do with my clients most often, acting as a sounding board, challenging their assumptions, and suggesting alternate realities. Not because I am right, and they are wrong - but because we see our own realities as absolute a jolt of what else it might be can be really liberating.
- Get support. Deeply held negative frames may need a professional to work with you to uncover and change, to help you examine what you are saying to yourself and to help with the creation of the reframe. As a trained Psychologist Coach I have worked with many hundreds of clients on reframes over the years – which is how I know that reframing works! However if an individual is in a more traumatic mental health space (and Psychologist Coaches are trained to be able to identify this) we can point people to the mental health support provided by any Employee Assistance programmes their organisation has in place, or to Licensed Counsellors specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or cognitive reframing.
If you really want to succeed with this, you need to work out what your most common negative thoughts are and develop reframes ready and available whenever you have that thought, and which over time will replace the old frame.
Consistently applied, you will find yourself instinctively thinking in a more helpful way in situations that you had previously limiting thoughts and beliefs about. This is hugely liberating!
So, in this second part of our two-part series we have discussed how to identify which negative stories you might want to ‘reframe’ and then how you can replace them with more helpful ones.
In part 3 of our three-part series I will be covering some common patterns of thinking that most people have found their thoughts falling into at one time or another. They are called cognitive distortions, and I certainly recognise one or two in myself!