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How to use cognitive restructuring

Robert Mandeya:People management issueS

HERE is a scenario: Tawanda has just handed a report to his boss, Susan. She reads it, thanks him for his work, and makes a number of small criticisms.

Unfortunately, one of these comments “touches a raw nerve” with Tawanda, and he storms back to his office, angry and upset.

Tawanda knows that he needs to get over this, so that his negative mood doesn’t affect others. He takes a few deep breaths, and writes down why he felt attacked by Susan. He then remembers that the overall quality of his work impressed her, and that she wants him to improve and grow. He also enjoyed working on the project, and, deep down, he knows he did a good job.

After taking a few minutes to reframe the situation, Tawanda no longer feels angry. He calls Susan to apologise for his behaviour, and then uses her suggestions to improve his report.

In this situation, Tawanda used cognitive restructuring to overcome negative, reactive thinking. We will look at how you can use cognitive restructuring in this article.

What is cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring is a useful technique for understanding unhappy feelings and moods, and for challenging the sometimes-wrong “automatic beliefs” that can lie behind them. As such, you can use it to reframe the unnecessary negative thinking that we all experience from time to time.

Bad moods are unpleasant, they can reduce the quality of your performance, and they undermine your relationships with others. Cognitive restructuring helps you to change the negative or distorted thinking that often lies behind these moods. As such, it helps you approach situations in a more positive frame of mind.

Given the current environment where people are going through a lot of pressure as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic downturn and political toxicity, one could do with some cognitive behaviour therapy to cope with the overwhelming situation.

Cognitive restructuring has been used successfully to treat a wide variety of conditions, including depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, anxiety, social phobias, relationship issues, and stress.

However, the real practical application of post traumatic therapy is beyond the scope of this article, and should you find yourself in this situation consult a qualified medical practitioner. However, you can use the technique of cognitive restructuring yourself to reframe less serious, day-to-day negative thoughts.

For example, you can use it to overcome negative thinking before you speak in public, or to improve your mood when you have a bad day.

You can also use it to think positively before you go into a performance review or a job interview, or before you engage in a difficult conversation. It’s also helpful for overcoming fear of failure and fear of success, and for beating self-sabotage.

Some practical steps
Calm yourself if you are still upset or stressed by the thoughts you want to explore particularly anxiety caused by the current uncertain environment. For many they are finding it hard to concentrate under the current circumstances, with the situation getting from bad to worse. Use meditation or deep breathing to calm yourself down if you feel particularly stressed or upset by a situation.

Identify the situation
Knowing the problem is as good as half solving the problem. Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative mood, and write this into your diary or note or just a paper. During executive coaching, I usually go with clients through a practical exercise using a boxed puzzle for self assessment — the results are amazing.

Analyze your mood
Next, write down the mood, or moods, that you are feeling during a situation. Here, moods are the fundamental feelings that we have, but they are not thoughts about the situation.

Dr Greenberger and Padesky suggest an easy way to distinguish moods from thoughts: you can usually describe moods in one word, while thoughts are more complex.
For example, a situation such as, “He trashed my suggestion in front of my co-workers” would be a thought, while the associated moods might be humiliation, frustration, anger, or insecurity.

Find objective supportive evidence
Identify the evidence that objectively supports your automatic thoughts. In our example, you might write the following:

“The meeting moved on and decisions were made, but my suggestion was ignored.”

“He identified a flaw in one of my arguments.”

Your goal is to look objectively at what happened, and then to write down specific events or comments that led to your automatic thoughts. I cannot exhaust everything here, there is a lot more on this subject.

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925.

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