reframing negative thoughts

The Power of Reframing Negative Thoughts: How To Change Your Perception and Improve Your Life

Have you ever stopped to consider how the clouds relate to the sky? 

Don’t worry, I’m not here to give you a weather lesson. Stick with me for a moment, and humour this little detour as we delve into the subject of “reframing thoughts,” a crucial life skill you probably didn’t know you needed.

Before you scratch your head bald in confusion, give this question a go: 

How are the clouds related to the sky? 

Ponder this for 30 seconds and maybe write down your thoughts. And before you toss this aside as nonsense, remember, it’s the nonsensical stuff that sometimes makes the most sense.

Your Mind: The Great Storyteller

Did you come up with an answer? Maybe you think the sky is the playground of the clouds, or perhaps you consider the clouds as the sky’s stylish accessories? Your answers may be as varied as the clouds in the sky, and that’s perfectly okay.

Here’s the plot twist: there’s no correct answer. But your mind, ever the keen problem solver, quickly jumped into action to fill in the blanks, didn’t it? That’s because our minds are like story generators, constantly crafting narratives and making connections to make sense of the world around us. And it’s within these narratives, these stories we tell ourselves, where we often find our “truths.”

Reframing thoughts is all about understanding this mind process and tweaking it to our advantage.

Stories and Realities

Your mind doesn’t like being left hanging in the clouds (pun intended). 

When it doesn’t know the answer, it improvises and makes its best guess. 

But here’s the catch: these guesses don’t feel like guesses. They feel like hard facts, like the truth. And so, we create assumptions.

But it’s crucial to remember that these stories are not mere thoughts – they are the architects of our reality. They shape how we interpret situations, dictating our emotions, actions, and, ultimately, the course of our lives.

This brings us to the core of this article – reframing negative thoughts. 

If our realities are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves, what happens if we start editing these stories? The answer is simple – we can change our realities. (Dramatic music!)

Stay with me on this journey as we dive deeper into the art of reframing thoughts and how this simple yet profound skill can transform your life.

Stuck In A Negative Narrative

Let’s put our reframing thoughts strategy to the test using a real-life example. 

Picture this: a mid-career professional, let’s call him Joe, has always dreamt of starting his own business. He’s been in the corporate world for over a decade, honing his skills, and learning the tricks of the trade. But whenever he thinks about breaking free and stepping into the entrepreneurial world, a bag of self-deprecating stories floods his mind.

“I’m too inexperienced to start my own business.” 

“Maybe I’m not cut out to be a leader.” 

“What if I fail and lose everything?”

Sound familiar? 

These negative self-narratives have kept Joe stuck in his comfortable but unfulfilling corporate job. He’s been longing to break free, but his fears, framed as facts in his mind, have built an invisible cage around him.

Reframing The Narrative

Now, let’s try reframing these thoughts, shall we? 

Let’s pick apart these narratives that Joe has constructed and view them from different angles. The aim here isn’t to negate these feelings or fears – but to expand Joe’s perspective and uncover alternative, potentially more empowering, narratives.

“I’m too inexperienced to start my own business.” 

But hasn’t Joe been in the corporate world, closely observing business mechanics for over a decade? 

What if we reframe this as: “I have a decade’s worth of business experience to guide my business decisions. I’m not new to this and what I don’t know I can learn.”

“Maybe I’m not cut out to be a leader.” 

Could this be because Joe’s definition of a leader is narrowly defined by his corporate experiences? 

What if he reframed this as: “I’ve had many bosses. I know very well what great leadership and bad leadership look like. I know which one I want to be.”

“What if I fail and lose everything?” This is a valid fear. But aren’t all businesses inherently risky? 

What if Joe reframed this as “Every successful business owner has faced this risk. I will take calculated risks if I have to. But I am not planning to gamble.”

The Power of Reframing Thoughts

Do you see how these reframed thoughts have a different feel to them? 

They are not just blindly optimistic – they acknowledge the fears but also bring to light the potential and possibilities. This is the power of reframing negative thoughts. It doesn’t change the facts – Joe is indeed about to step into a new, unfamiliar territory. But by reframing his thoughts, he is now viewing the same facts through a more empowered, solution-oriented lens.

Reframing thoughts is not about suppressing or ignoring our fears or doubts. It’s about challenging the narratives we’ve unconsciously accepted as our “truths.” 

It’s about understanding that there can be multiple interpretations of the same situation, and we have the power to choose the one that serves us best.

Situation: You’re stuck in traffic.
Negative Perspective: I’m wasting so much time. This is frustrating.
Positive Reframe: I now have a chance to listen to that podcast I’ve been meaning to catch up on.

Situation: It’s raining, and you had plans to go for a walk.
Negative Perspective: My plan is ruined because I can’t go outside.
Positive Reframe: Now I have a perfect excuse to cosy up with a good book and a cup of tea.

Situation: You’ve been given a challenging assignment at work.
Negative Perspective: This is going to be too hard. I can’t handle it.
Positive Reframe: This is a great opportunity to learn something new and grow professionally.

Situation: You’re home alone for the weekend.
Negative Perspective: I’m so lonely. I have no one to spend time with.
Positive Reframe: This is a great chance for some much-needed “me time.”

Situation: Your flight is delayed.
Negative Perspective: This is so inconvenient. I hate waiting.
Positive Reframe: I now have some extra time to plan my trip and catch up on my reading.

Situation: You received criticism on a project at work.
Negative Perspective: I must be terrible at my job. They hate my work.
Positive Reframe: This feedback can help me improve and do a better job next time. Without it, I’d make the same mistake again. 

Situation: You didn’t get the job you interviewed for.
Negative Perspective: I’m a failure. I’m not good enough.
Positive Reframe: Maybe I wasn’t a good fit for the job. At least, I got to practice interviews and will do a better job next time.

Situation: You’re having difficulty learning a new skill.
Negative Perspective: I’m just not cut out for this. It’s too difficult.
Positive Reframe: Mastery takes time. Each try and repetition is getting me a little closer to getting a good grasp of it. If it were easy, everyone would be great at it. 

Situation: You made a mistake at work and your boss found out.
Negative Perspective: I’m going to lose my job. I’m not competent.
Positive Reframe: Everyone makes mistakes. This is an opportunity to show my boss how I take responsibility and learn from my errors.

I hope you’re starting to see the value of looking at the situation at hand from a different angle. 

This is not just about being more positive

It’s about making the situation more useful to you than just throwing your hands in the air. 

When you practice reframing, it will soon become quite automatic. 

To accelerate this learning process, I highly recommend using the 7-step process from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which breaks it down into easy steps.  

A Quick Guide to the Thought Record Sheet – 7 Column

This worksheet can be a game changer for tackling those pesky, self-doubting thoughts that creep in when we’re trying to take on new challenges like starting a business or making other significant (or insignificant) life changes.

(You can download the full worksheet 7 Column Thought Record Sheet here. )

1) Situation/Trigger: This is where you jot down the specific event that tripped the wire of your negative thoughts. 

What happened? Where? When? Who with? How?

It’s like setting a scene in a movie.

2) Feelings: Here, record your emotional response to the event on a scale from 0-100. Don’t be shy, let your feelings fly! 

What emotions did I feel at that time? How intense was it? What did I notice in my body? Where did I feel it? 

3) Unhelpful Thoughts: Next, what was the immediate thought that popped into your mind after the event? These thoughts are usually automatic and often negative. They might even surprise you with their intensity.

4) Evidence For Unhelpful Thoughts: Now, put on your detective hat. List the factual evidence that supports this automatic thought. Is there solid proof, or are these assumptions? Remember, no one’s on trial here, so keep it real.

5) Evidence Against Unhelpful Thoughts: Here’s where the fun begins. It’s time to challenge that automatic thought by listing factual evidence that contradicts it. Find those positives and write them down.

6) More Balanced Perspective: Armed with your evidence, it’s time to formulate a new, balanced thought. It’s about finding a middle ground that considers all the evidence and reflects reality more accurately. This new thought is often less negative and more empowering.

Outcome: Finally, note how the balanced thought affects your original mood. You might be surprised at how much your feelings can shift just by challenging your thoughts.

This worksheet might seem simple but don’t underestimate its power. 

By systematically challenging our negative thoughts, you can train your brain to think differently and build a habit of reframing negative thoughts into positive ones. 

Keep in mind, just like any other skill, it takes practice. 

But with time, it’ll be like your personal superpower, enabling you to shift your mindset whenever you need it. 

The sky’s the limit…or should I say, the clouds?

(Click on the worksheet to download it)

The Power of Reframing Negative Thoughts: How To Change Your Perception and Improve Your Life Thought Record 7 column
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