I’ve long been aware of the concept of limiting beliefs: Those thoughts you believe about yourself to be utterly true even though they’re almost rarely based on facts. I have limiting beliefs about all kinds of things: “They’ll think I’m weak and unstable” if I open up or get vulnerable with people, or “I can’t meet a partner until I lose weight because no one would want to be with me as I am now.” Then, there are the “I could never start a business,” “I’m not good at that,” and “I’m bad at relationships.” I have limiting beliefs about my performance at work, my friendships, my relationship with my family, my habits, my productivity—you name it, and I’ve probably created a false reality about it in my head. Limiting beliefs can even be pretty specious, to the point that you might not even recognize at first that they aren’t actually factual.
After a few sessions, my therapist caught on to a few of these thoughts and suggested I start reframing them. At first, I was like, “Yeah, sure, that’ll work.” In practice, it doesn’t seem like it would be that effective. “I’m bad at everything” becomes “I am open-minded and try everything, which makes it hard for me to become a master at any one thing.” But as we focused more on how I could reframe that thought, fireworks went off. Immediately, I noticed that my mood and ability to cope with negative emotions improved.
Since this has helped me so much in the last couple of months, I’m ramping it up in 2023. The positive, healthy, mentally-well me has arrived! Ahead, a few thought reframing hacks I’ve used to manage my emotions and adjust my approach to self-talk, plus a few tips you can start now to make 2023 your healthiest mental year yet.
Keep a journal
My therapist recommended I dedicate a journal entirely for thought reframing. She said that when I have really negative thoughts that seem to pervade me—or as time goes on, focusing on the little thoughts that come up throughout the day—immediately write them down. And don’t judge yourself. If your first thought is that you suck and are the worst person ever, same! The whole point is to notice how often you have these thoughts. It makes sense that we feel down or sad if we’re constantly telling ourselves that we do, in fact, suck.
Then, at the end of the day or week, I go through all of the thoughts I’ve compiled and work on reframing them. And when I really need a minute to calm down and regroup, I’ll do it right then and there, sometimes in the notes app on my phone. This has been a game changer for me. I am slowly starting to see patterns in my thinking and discovering how I’ve managed to let these intrusive thoughts take over for so long.
Some examples of thoughts I’ve reframed:
- “I look so ugly today.” → “I’m really proud of how I did my hair and makeup today.”
- “I never have any good ideas.” → “I prioritize ideation, and it’s a skill that I’m proud of at work.”
- “I’m a bad employee because I missed a deadline.” → “I am working so hard to produce work that is high-quality, and sometimes that is sacrificial.”
- “I’ll never meet someone unless I lose weight.” → “I want someone to love me for me as I am right now, not someone who wants a different version of me.”
Try hot-to-cool thinking
When reframing an entire thought feels daunting, hot-to-cool thinking is what my therapist recommended. Basically, instead of going from “I’m the worst” to “I’m the best,” you go from “I’m the worst” to “I’m working on it.” We don’t have to immediately love ourselves; that takes time. And even if you do love yourself, you can still get tripped up and have negative thoughts. It’s human, unfortunately, to be hard on ourselves and go to a negative place when we want to avoid feeling an emotion we don’t like, such as jealousy, sadness, fear, or anger. So simply cool down your thoughts.
Some other examples:
- “I’m bad at my job.” → “I’m facing a few new challenges right now.”
- “I’ll always be single.” → “Being single doesn’t feel great right now. I would like to work on meeting someone.”
- “I’m ugly.” → “Everyone has different taste; who I find attractive is not the same as who someone else does. Because of this, looks are so subjective.”
- “I’ll never have enough money to live comfortably.” → “I can provide myself the necessities right now, but I’ll have to find another stream of income to have extra spending money.”
Recognize when an intrusive thought is taking over
The second you start to recognize that you’re catastrophizing and getting stuck in a loop of limiting beliefs, simply recognize it. Notice how it feels. Are your palms sweaty? Did you tense up? Is your posture hunched? Do you feel a temperature change? For one, when we can see how our body naturally responds to stress, it’s easier to understand how and why it’s not good for us. When you notice your jaw lock during a particularly stressful day and you move around to try to help ease it, there’s an immediate release involved.
But there’s also importance in recognizing the thought so you can give yourself compassion. My therapist is constantly telling me to just stop and place my hand on my heart. Engage in self-compassion and love. Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel negative emotions. This alone has been a game changer, and it’s so simple and can be done anytime, anywhere.
Source: Cosmo Politian