CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and it’s a type of therapy that can help improve how you feel and act because it teaches you how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are all connected. You may feel anxious before a big test or angry when things don’t go your way because your negative thoughts and feelings bring you down, but CBT can help positively deal with these emotions.
In essence, practicing CBT in everyday life is to recognize negative thoughts as they are happening, understand why they are happening, and then challenge them. In other words, you train your mind to think more helpful and optimistic thoughts that, in turn, make you feel better. Once you feel better, you act differently. You may become more productive, more adaptive, more ambitious, more confident; you name it.
The main idea behind CBT is that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interconnected. You can think of them as a team that works together and shapes how we feel and act. If one team member starts acting up (when you have a negative thought, for example), it may affect the whole team’s performance, i.e., your emotions and actions will be affected.
Another important CBT concept is that our thoughts aren’t always an accurate reflection of reality. There are many different types of so-called thinking errors, such as jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, etc., that many people tend to get caught up in, and their line of thinking takes a negative turn.
For example, you’ve been working on a presentation, but as the day approaches, you start feeling more and more nervous. You begin to think, “What if everyone laughs at me? What if they think I am stupid? It will be a total disaster, and my life will be ruined!” This is an example of catastrophizing when we blow things out of proportion and imagine the worst possible outcome.
The great news is that once you learn to recognize your thinking errors, you can challenge them and replace them with more balanced and realistic thoughts. In the above example, an alternative thought could be: “It’s normal to feel nervous before a presentation, but I have prepared well, and I know my stuff. Even if I make a mistake, it’s not the end. Mistakes can be learning experiences, and other people make mistakes too.”
Here’s a list of some of the most common thinking errors to look out for:
Catastrophizing. You catastrophize when you blow things out of proportion and expect the worst-case scenario to happen.
All-or-Nothing Thinking or seeing things only in extremes, with no middle ground. Example: “If I’m not the best, I’m a total failure.”
Overgeneralization. You overgeneralize when you make broad conclusions based on very limited evidence. Example: “I failed this one thing; I am likely to fail other things too.”
Personalization. Personalization is believing that what others say or do is all about you. Example: “My friends canceled plans; they must not like me anymore.”
Assuming you know what others think and feel without evidence, such as seeing people talk and thinking: “They must be talking about me.”
Emotional reasoning, such as believing that emotions always reflect reality. An example of emotional reasoning could be someone who thinks, “I feel anxious. I must be in danger.”
Discounting the positive is another common one. You discount the positive when you dismiss or downplay positive experiences and accomplishments.
There are many more.
To successfully use CBT in everyday life, it’s essential to understand that our thoughts are like little messages we tell ourselves. These thoughts can be negative, such as in the above examples, or positive, affecting how we feel. So if we have a lot of negative thoughts, such as “I am a failure” or “Nobody likes me,” feeling sad, anxious, or angry is a natural outcome.
Our emotions are triggered by thoughts, but they can also affect our thoughts in return. Sometimes you might be able to change your thoughts to feel better, but other times you may be feeling really down and start having more negative thoughts because of how you feel.
Finally, our behaviors depend on how we feel and what we think. If you feel confident about your ability to perform a particular task and are excited about it, you are more likely to get busy. But you are more likely to procrastinate if you don’t feel confident or like someone is forcing you to do it.
Interestingly, sometimes you can affect your feelings and thoughts through your behavior. For example, you think you lack the skills to do something but do it anyway. The outcome is good, and you begin to feel confident as a result. Because of this newly found confidence, you start thinking more positive thoughts.
The CBT triangle illustrates this concept very well. It shows that all three parts – thoughts, emotions, and behaviors – are all interconnected and constantly influence one another. So, if you can change one of these parts, you can influence the other two.
It’s important to note that while all three parts influence each other, challenging and replacing thoughts is usually easier than emotions. While it is possible to wake up one day feeling differently, it doesn’t happen very often. That’s why working on your thoughts is usually the most effective way to change.
Now that you are aware of this process, you can become your own detective, searching for clues about those sneaky negative thoughts!
Step 1: Recognize negative thoughts.
Step 2: Examine the evidence. Ask yourself, “Is there any evidence to support this thought?”, “Am I assuming what other people think about me?”, “Am I expecting the worst?”, “Is there a middle ground?”, “Does it have to mean that?” Often, our negative thoughts are not as solid as they may seem at first.
Step 3: Challenge your negative thoughts and replace them with more balanced and realistic alternatives. This should improve your emotions and behaviors, making you happier and more in control.
In conclusion, embracing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles can be a game-changer in improving our overall well-being and empowering us to take control of our thoughts and behaviors.
By using CBT techniques, like challenging negative thoughts, recognizing thinking errors, and cultivating a more balanced perspective, you can transform your day-to-day life, the way you work/study, and how you interact with others. Instead of letting negative thoughts and emotions run the show, CBT empowers you to be the director of your mental movie, steering it toward a more fulfilling and optimistic narrative.
If you need a little bit of help navigating your CBT journey, try this online CBT platform that includes ongoing support and guidance from a dedicated professional CBT therapist.