How you think has the power to create your life!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Sounds fancy and complicated but at the end of the day what CBT teaches is this—If you want different outcomes in your life, then think better!

For years, the human mind has been a mystery. Anxiety, depression, anger management problems… all seemed impossible to change. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when a psychiatrist by the name of Aaron Beck began to notice his clients’ thought patterns having a major influence on their feelings. He created a theory and treatment strategy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.

In the past, we believed that there was a direct causal relationship between things that happened to us in our lives and how we felt about them, meaning, we thought that events caused us to feel a certain way.

  • If you take my job away, it makes me mad.
  • If my dog dies, it makes me sad.

In CBT, however, we believe that events are not the cause of our feelings, though it can often feel that way. Instead, the theory teaches that it’s our interpretation of the event that determines how we feel.

For example, if I told you that there was a snake on the floor somewhere near your feet right now, how would you feel?

I actually ask my clients this question as we begin to understand the CBT concepts and I usually get “Yikes! I’d be afraid!”  For most of us, snakes equal danger. Danger elicits fear. But, every once in a while, I get a response that is very different. One time, a woman said “I’d be so excited!” another time a woman said, “I’d be so angry I‘d want to kill it!”

I love when I get a different answer than the classic fear response because it clearly illustrates this point. Your feeling about having a snake in the room depends upon what you think and believe about snakes.

  • For the woman who thinks “Snakes are dangerous. I could get bit.” result in feelings of fear.
  • For the woman who felt the excitement, her thought might be “Cool! I love snakes. I wonder which kind it is?” Maybe she has a snake for a pet or is a herpetologist who studies snakes for a living.
  • For the woman who became angry, she might think “My nephew got bit by a snake last week and didn’t deserve that. I’d destroy every snake if I could.” She took a defensive and protective stance, holding all snakes responsible for her nephew’s suffering.

This exercise illustrates an important point. Most of us make a critical error in understanding how our feelings are created. We think that something happens and then we respond with a feeling. This cause and effect theory has created a lot of heartache in the world because it implies that we have no control over how we feel. If something happens, then we are at the mercy of that event.

Thankfully, we now understand that there is a critical mid-step that is often hidden from our conscious awareness. The mid-step is the thoughts we have about what happened.

Our feelings are not caused by events. They are caused by what we believe and think about those events. In other words, what we believe determines how we feel!

In order to manage our negative emotions and improve our emotional outlook, there is a process with specific steps to follow.

*Here are the most important things you need to know about how to be a resilient thinker and use cognitive behavioral therapy to get better at it.

  1. Understand the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

What is a thought?

  • A thought is a single statement, question or judgment in your head.
  • A belief is a grouping of thoughts that you think of as truth.
  • A belief carries more weight and is stronger.
  • We often interchange thoughts and belief when we talk about them.
  • Your thoughts and beliefs usually show up as commentary, meaning we have internal “conversations” that can sound like a voice in our head.

What is a feeling?

  • A feeling is a one-word descriptor of an emotion. (See the emotion wheel for examples of feelings) Using one word to describe a feeling helps us identify the feeling separate from the commentary which can be with our thinking
  • Every feeling you have is one hundred percent accurate. Feelings are usually what we notice first, especially when they are negative feelings. They can seem to come upon us without warning and can be difficult to control.

What is a behavior or action?

  • Your behavior is what you do when you act upon or react to a thought or feeling.
  • Often times actions and behaviors can seem completely separate from our thoughts and feelings, but as you will see in a moment, that is not true.

That’s a long list of stuff! But don’t worry, we’ll continually talk through them and reference back to the lists to ensure you feel comfortable with them!

  1. Learn to separate out your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Resilient thinkers use self-awareness to notice that their thoughts, feelings, and actions are separate experiences rather than one giant ball of “out of control emotion”.

The Formula

Thoughts cause feelings and feelings cause actions. Our actions give us the outcome we experience.

That’s the formula we need to remember because without this understanding it is usually our feelings that “run the show” which is why most of us have times when we feel very out of control.

If we try to control our feelings straight up without addressing our thoughts and beliefs, we will not be very successful. The same is usually true concerning our actions. If we simply command that someone stop crying, or stop yelling, it does nothing to address the intense feelings or the upsetting thoughts that are surely linked to that behavior.

Think of the last time someone told you to calm down or stop being sad. Did it work? Probably not- and that’s because a feeling is a consequence or result of what you are thinking. Your feeling is generated from your thoughts. And your actions are motivated by both your thoughts and feelings. It’s not until we properly address all three elements that we can begin to have resilient thinking.

  1. Learn your ABC’s

Just like knowing the alphabet allowed you to learn to read, knowing your Inner ABC’s will teach help you to become a resilient thinker.

The ABC’s of resilient thinking represent the causal relationship between an event and your thoughts and feelings:

  • A= Activating event
  • B= Beliefs or thoughts
  • C= Consequence (feeling)

Notice that this is in a specific order. A,B,C. But most of us don’t really understand the ABC order. We usually just notice the A and the C

I see a snake (Activating event) and I feel afraid (Consequence or feeling).

We even assume that it is the snake that makes us afraid.

While the snake is certainly part of the equation, it is not the snake that causes our fear, it is actually our belief about the snake that causes fear.

Theory Translation
A= Activating event The snake
B= Belief “Snakes are dangerous. I could get bitten”
C= Consequence I feel afraid

Another Example:

  • I got fired from my job today
  • It was very unfair. The boss just wanted me out of there so he could hire his brother.
  • I am really angry.

Let’s make a change to the belief and see what happens:

  • I got fired from my job today
  • Finally, it took forever for them to let me go. Now I can take that new job and get the severance package too.
  • I am really happy and excited.

Another change to the belief:

  • I got fired from my job today
  • I am such a failure. No one will want to hire me now. I won’t be able to get a job. I’m going to be homeless.
  • I am very scared and hopeless.

As you see from the examples, the same event can produce very different consequences (feelings). Why is this? Because of the B’s, the beliefs in each scenario. Within your thoughts, there is an ocean full of expectations, judgments, and fantasies. What you think and how you think actually makes all the difference!

CBT helps us check those thoughts to make sure that they are accurate, rational and useful to us. When we learn how to work with our beliefs (the B’s) we begin to manage and even direct our feelings for our best good.

We can learn to change our “B” (belief) thoughts from:

  • “I am such a failure. No one will want to hire me now. I won’t be able to get a job. I’m going to be homeless.”

TO

  • “I’m upset about this but, just because I got fired doesn’t mean I’ll never work again. I can find out the reason and make any changes I need to make so that it is not likely to happen again. “

Notice that the belief didn’t change in a radical way, it just became more accurate, less fatalistic and more rational and supportive. As a result of this positive change, the feeling would then shift as well, changing from despair to disappointment.  In this case, disappointment is much less traumatic and could even serve as a positive mechanism to reflect and regroup.

Here’s the really important thing about all this ABC CBT stuff we’ve been talking about—thoughts have the power to create self-fulfilling prophecies!

Our actions are influenced by both our thoughts and our feelings. If we feel fear and hopelessness, we are much less likely to take positive action, especially action that requires us to face our fear. As illustrated in our last example, despair is paralyzing and likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are hopeless, you are much less likely to seek out another job thereby ensuring that your prediction of not ever being hired again, comes true.

The same is true when the thought is reframed to be more accurate and rational. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in a positive way. The person would have the hope and courage to interview for another job, which would increase her chances of being hired.

As we use CBT, patterns of thinking will become apparent. All of us have automatic thoughts that pop into our head without our awareness. We can learn to recognize these and with practice, learn to shift them from negative and harmful to rational and helpful. The more we practice, the more we learn to be more accurate and flexible in our thinking. These are the main components of resilient thinking.

 

Here at TakeCareofMom.com, we have tools to challenge negative thinking and exercises to adopt a healthy growth mindset to better serve you in your life. These are tools that you can learn and start implementing right away!

So, take some time and get familiar with your personal self-talk. The next time you hear your inner critic speak up, pause before believing every word of what she says. Be mindful, stay neutral, and be kind to yourself. Check it for reason, check it to see if it serves you well. Your resilience and happiness depend on it!

Remember I’m here to help you take care of you!

Please share your thoughts and feelings below and don’t hesitate to visit our forum to continue the discussion!

Take care!

Leigh

2 Comments

  1. Natalie

    I LOVE this! One of my favorite sayings is “If you can’t change something, change the way you think about it”, and I try to teach that to my kids. The way that you look at things makes ALL the difference!

    Reply
    • Leigh Germann, LCSW

      Hi Natalie!
      There is great power in our thinking! Lucky kids to have such a wise mom!

      Reply

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