What is cognitive reframing?

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In this post, we’ll have a discussion on the subject of cognitive reframing.

The way we look at the world affects the way we act on it. Today there are countless schools of thought on any subject you can think of. Each with its own rules that might go from the subject itself to being applied to the student’s personal lives and the way they make bigger deal decisions. Even with the strictest and most comprehensive philosophies of life and thought we still carry with us our own native and basic interpretation of the things we experience. Some of us might be more inclined to see only the good, others the bad, while some others might do as little as nothing. It’s in the moments of great stress that we return to our most primitive forms of thinking, and if we’re not careful enough the lessons learned from these primitive conclusions might be the wrong ones. Here is where cognitive reframing enters the picture.

What is cognitive reframing?

Cognitive reframing is to put simply a psychological technique whose goal is to minimize one’s distress caused by negative thoughts and interpretations by changing these thoughts and interpretations. Here the act of reframing is a replacement for the word change. The reframing can also be thought of in the same way they think about the word in the area of photography. When we take a picture and we want to use it as an ornament around the house or office we “frame it”, and when that frame gets old or something better is found, we “reframe it”.

The difference is that the reason why we reframe cognitively is that the current thoughts and feelings with regards to a situation or event for one reason or another do not bring the best in the person.

How to apply it on myself?

The first and most important thing if you want to apply the idea of reframing to your life is to have a clear understanding of how you understand the event you’re trying to reframe. This is in essence what’s explained on the post How to improve metacognition. In summary, just like with metacognition, you first need to understand how your mind perceives the event so that you can take the necessary steps to change it. You first have to ask yourself about your opinion on the matter in the same way that you’d ask someone else about theirs. Without that there is no way to easily change your views or feelings on a matter. It’s the same as wanting to change the frame of a picture you’re not even sure what the frame is.

Reframe using questions

One way to use reframing is to know what you want to change the thoughts and feelings to and either will yourself to look at the situation that way. Another way is through the use of questions. If you know your way of looking at things is not helpful and/or might even be incorrect this technique can be just what you need.

When you have a  frame set on a situation or event, the method of questions would lead you to first ask why you have that frame in the first place. The mind is so powerful that it can once in a while, be rational about irrational matters. Knowing this, the next predicted thing is that a rational/logical reason for the frame will be fabricated and this is where the weakness of the frame lies. Meaning you can more easily dismantle the frame through logic and logic alone. By proving the logic for the existence of the frame is not sound you can sometimes make the emotional leap and drop the frame. When this happens the next will likely be more useful.

Taking advantage of cognitive dissonance for a successful reframe

Another way to reframe successfully is by taking advantage of what goes by the name of cognitive dissonance. In a few words, cognitive dissonance is the tendency of the brain to want to have our thoughts, feelings, and behavior aligned. Like a united country, all cities fight for the same cause and believe in the same beliefs.

When we believe in one thing, and behave in a contradictory way, on the other hand, we experience a very common form of discomfort that forces us to either change the thoughts or the behavior.

So it follows that one potentially useful strategy to change the way you look at things is by behaving as if you looked at them in the desired way. This is the idea taught in the book: The as if principle by Richard Wiseman.

Reframing  stressful events

Stress is one of these things no human being can ever claim to never have experienced. The way we handle it can make the difference between performing well when needed, and a complete freeze. Here too the technique of reframing can be useful. Instead of looking at the stressful event let’s say: an exam, one can learn to look at it as a challenge to be conquered.

Think about the frame around every stressful event. It’s nothing more than a repetition of the same old story that whatever we are about to face is likely deadly/harmful to us. We might not have this belief set explicitly in our minds in the form of thoughts, but we still behave as if this is the case nonetheless.

I found over the years that sometimes, all it takes is to mentally take myself to accept that whatever I’m anxious about is not going to kill me and then, the subconscious framing of the situation is changed.

Reframing losses

Just as we can reframe stressful events, the same can be useful and applied to losses. Losing is perhaps one of the few things that make even the most distinct pair of people close. Meaning the experience of it is universal in the sense that we all dislike it. Losing can be either a learning experience or just a painful one, and it’s when we subscribe to the latter that we make ourselves more prone to mental illnesses such as depression.

By intentionally reframing a loss experience from just a painful to a learning one we can minimize the pain and misery as much as possible. The problem with the second view of the event is that we are more inclined to see the loss as a measure of how worth; what we’re capable of. The first forces us to look at the same thing in a new light, with a fresh pair of lenses.

Cognitive reframing and depression

The subject of depression has been around for a while and still, we can’t seem to find a unifying explanation for its sources. One potential explanation is that the source of one’s problem comes from an event/series of events from which a negative frame was applied. Taking that to mind, it follows that a potential solution for down moments might be reframing, and one of the best places to start is by reading motivational books or listening to motivational speeches.

Reframing  applied to other people

When it comes to other people, the way they look at us has an impact on how they interact with us. Sometimes the frame through which they interpret us is positive and sometimes is negative. The steps to changing this frame are simple.

  1. Identify it

2. Make indirect changes

Unlike when we’re trying to reframe our own thoughts, making a direct change or trying to convince another person to look at you in a different light will likely prove useless. What can be useful as taught in the book The art of seduction by Robert Greene, is to do so indirectly.

Summary

In summary cognitive reframing can be an arduous endeavor.  Often the difficulty lies not on the reframing itself but on knowing exactly what we’re trying to reframe. This is usually a problem caused by our difficulty in understanding our own thoughts and emotions. The solution here is either to take more introspective journeys or talk to a psychologist.

There are times, however, in which the problem lies on the reframing process. Often the reason for this is that the belief is not just logical but also emotional. One solution for this problem is to apply the cognitive dissonance strategy, which is, in essence, to behave as if the reframing was successful. If a loss makes you feel like a loser, and you can’t see things any other way, you could try to reframe the situation by pretending it was nothing more than a learning chance. How do students behave in class?

They take notes, the ask questions, and record somewhere the lessons learned. Because for every loss there is always a lesson, this would be a relatively simple exercise because there would be no need to manufacture the lessons learned.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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Sources:

How to improve metacognition: https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/how-to-improve-metacognition

Framing effect in psychology: https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/framing-effect-in-psychology

Cognitive dissonance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

The as if principle: https://g.co/kgs/QxL1uH

The art of seduction: https://g.co/kgs/bMZ3Gp

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