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Reshaping Negative Thoughts

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Reshaping Negative Thoughts

Reshaping Negative Thoughts Into Positive Thoughts

 There’s a quote from Gandhi that basically amounts to explaining how our thoughts and beliefs create our lives and our futures. Some examples of just how true this is can be found every single time we struggle along our fitness journeys. Do any of these sound familiar?

 

“ Even if I lose the weight, I’ll just gain it back…” 

“Of course I’d forget to pack my workout shoes, I’m such an idiot.” 

“Either I do it 100% or not at all.” 

 

 The examples could fill a book, but the concept is clear. These are examples of cognitive distortions which are defined as “irrational and usually harmful thought patterns that interfere with a person’s well-being,” (Brehm, 2019). Cognitive distortions don’t always start off so dramatic. They’ll start as what’s called self-talk, the running commentary that just sort of happens in our heads. Self-talk isn’t always intentional. It happens when we pass something we like in a store window and our brain goes, “It’s on sale! You’re saving money if you buy it while it’s on sale!”. It happens when we are looking for something, “Now did I put my keys down before or after I let the dog out?”. Sometimes it’s a little more intentional, “My workout class is supposed to start in thirty minutes and if I don’t leave right this second I’ll be late….may as well not go today.” 

 

 As we know, the first step to fixing an issue is admitting there is a problem. So let’s all take a second to sit with the idea that we are guilty of thoughts like these. Let’s acknowledge that we sometimes let our thoughts turn negative and affect our day to day lives. Let’s appreciate that we are not alone in this fact and there’s nothing wrong with us personally for letting this happen.

 

Now, let’s take responsibility for improving ourselves. The path we’re about to take together is part of cognitive behavior coaching which is a coaching approach that uses “guided discovery” to help individuals “identify, examine, challenge and change unproductive thoughts and feelings” that could be affecting their ability to make lifestyle changes. Ideally, it would be wise to find a certified health coach like myself or my GoTime teammate Caleb Campbell to help with this process, but maybe this can be a stepping stone!

 

Alright, let’s start with looking a little deeper into some examples of cognitive distortions and then we’ll look at how we can use the ABCs to help us counter the negative thoughts and replace them with more productive ones. 

6 Common Cognitive Distortions:

There are six common cognitive distortions that can ultimately impact both our health journey's as well as our daily lives and relationships.

1. Jumping to Conclusions

  • Mind reading
    • Assuming we know what other people are thinking without any evidence to support it. 
      • "No one in my family believes I'll finish a 5k."
  • Fortune telling
    • Arbitrarily prediction the future and assuming the worst
      • "Even if I lose the weight, I'll gain it back."

2. Magnification (catastrophizing) & Minimization

  • Either blowing things way out of proportion
    • "I NEED to have a few drinks after work because it's the ONLY way I can deal with the stress."
  • or making something important seem less significant

    • "I've had high blood pressure for years, but I've always felt fine so it's no big deal."

3. Labeling

  • Assigning labels to self or others
    • "He's such a fool."
    • "I'm such an idiot for forgetting my gym shoes."

4. Overgeneralizing

  • Seeing a single event as a never-ending pattern of defeat or disappointment.
    • "Nothing good EVER happens to me!"
    • "I'm exercising more but I still can't control my blood sugar, I'm never going to lower my A1C."

5. All-or-Nothing Thinking

  • AKA Black and White thinking
    • "I already ruined my diet by having a cookie, I may as well eat the rest of the batch."

6. Personalization and Blame

  • Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn't completely your fault.
    • "This is all my fault."
  • OR blaming other people for something that was clearly your fault.

    • "I'd be able to stop smoking if my boss wasn't so hard on me."

 

 One or more of these examples may have felt relatable on some level. It’s important to note that these feelings are sometimes deeply rooted in our brains because we’ve struggled with the distortions for so long. That doesn’t mean we’re beyond growing out of it though so here’s where the ABCs come into play. 

 

 ABCDE is a mnemonic that was created around 1975 as a method of countering these negative thought patterns that have become so ingrained in our mental habits that we think and say them without a second thought. Think of A, B, and C as things to identify and consider D and E as action steps.

 

ABC's For Reshaping Negative Thoughts:

  1. Is for Activating Event

    • When we realize we’re having negative thoughts, we have to first identify the activating event. In some cases, missing a workout or going over on calories can be a trigger for something of a downward spiral.


  2. Is for Beliefs

    • Once an activating event occurs, our beliefs associated with that event will be triggered and we have to identify this as well. For example, someone who went over on calories or missed a workout might suddenly believe that they’ve blown the whole weeks’ worth of effort. 


  3. Is for Consequences

    • The next thing we have to identify is what the consequences were of the first two steps. This generally comes in the form of either emotions or behaviors or sometimes both. Someone who went over on calories and missed a workout might feel disappointed and frustrated with themselves and decide not to go back to their workouts.


  4. Is for Disputing the negative thinking

    • This is the biggest step. Now that the activating event has been identified and the beliefs that it stirred up have been recognized and both the emotional and behavioral consequences have been pinpointed, we have to replace the original thought with something more productive. An example might be “One day at a time, Self, tomorrow we’ll track calories before we go out and we’ll get a workout in on Saturday so we still get 3 sessions this week.”


  5. Is for Effect

    • Now’s the time to reflect on the emotions stirred by the new thought. Did you feel relieved by taking the pressure off yourself and creating a new plan? Once you follow through with this new line of planning, reflect on your feelings. Do you feel proud? 

 

 This is just one example of reshaping a negative thought into a more positive, action based one. It will take practice so leave plenty of room for grace during this process. There are studies that have shown that an increase in positive emotions like the ones we’re trying to drum up with this exercise can increase what’s called “pathways thinking, which is a person’s perceived ability to find routes to desired goals,”. All of that to say this...the better we get at replacing negative thoughts, with positive thoughts, the better equipped the brain becomes at overcoming obstacles so that we’re able to achieve our goals faster and with less effort! So practice your ABCs! 

 

Anjelica Haberlein

GoTimeTraining ACE Certified Personal Trainer

 

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