- Joe White
Well, That’s One Way of Thinking
Updated: May 7, 2021
Jill just received her first job performance review and received the following feedback:
Works well with her team
Helps in other projects she is not involved in by offering new ideas and direction
Very well organized
Makes a strong effort to educate herself and develop her skills
Has improved her management skills, but there is still room for growth
Has achieved 75% of her goals
Jill took this feedback and went back to her desk feeling quite satisfied with the result.
Jim also received his first job performance and received the exact same feedback. Jim, however, took his feedback back to his desk feeling angry and upset. He slammed his notebook down, stomped out of the office and went outside for some air.
Both Jill and Jim received the same feedback, but their behaviours were completely different. For the last comment about goals, Jill thought, “Wow, I managed to complete 75% of my goals; that’s quite an achievement”. However, Jim took the last comment and thought “I can’t believe I only completed 75% of my goals; I’m such a failure and I’m bound to get fired”.
We all have different patterns of thought which determines our mood, behaviours and even our physical reactions. That internal dialogue in our head includes interpreting, explaining and judging the situation and it could make us feel better or worse, threatening or non-threatening or overall stressful. Some people see things positively and others see things negatively.
Jill interpreted that last comment as an accomplishment while Jim saw it as a catastrophe. Jim’s pattern of thought has led him to some faulty thinking forcing him to hold beliefs that have not served any purpose except a barrier to being happy or successful. One thing to understand is that beliefs are rarely based solely on facts and evidence, but rather the interpretation of the facts and evidence. Facts that we collect are looked at in a different perspective (i.e. accomplishment vs catastrophe).
Rational Reframing or Cognitive Restructuring
Rational Reframing or Cognitive Restructuring (both are used interchangeably) is a technique used to understand unhappy feelings and moods as well as challenge those unhelpful beliefs. The idea behind reframing is that the frame which a person views a situation determines their point-of-view. It’s like looking through a camera lens; we can change the view by either zooming in or zooming out or moving it right or left making the view of the picture look different. However, the more zoomed in the picture, the more unclear, unfocused and undeterminable the view. Therefore, potentially causing a darker interpretation of the view.
Being caught in negative thought patterns lead to low moods, negative feelings like anger or sadness and are overall quite unpleasant. They reduce your motivation, cause tension in relationships and could affect your sleep patterns and eating habits. Rational reframing helps you change your negative thought patterns and guide you to a more positive frame of mind.
Using Rational Reframing
One of the rational reframing techniques I have used is the 7-Column Thought Record from the book, Mind Over Mood by Christine Padesky. This technique follows the following steps.
Step 1: Calm Yourself
Exploring your thoughts while still feeling upset or stressed may be difficult to achieve. My recommendation is to walk away, go outside, do some deep breathing exercises or meditate to calm yourself down.
Step 2: Identify the Situation
Describe the situation that triggered that negative mood. Sometimes saying the situation out loud or even writing it down can make it easier to pinpoint the situation.
Step 3: Analyze the Mood
Write down the mood, or moods that you felt during the situation. Moods are usually one- or two-word answers (i.e. sad, angry, pissed off, humiliated). If you are thinking of a full phrase like Jim’s: “I can’t believe I only completed 75% of my goals; I’m such a failure and I’m bound to get fired”, then those are thoughts and not a mood. How do you feel about completing only 75% of goals? Sad? Mad? Embarrassed? Frustrated? Worried?
Step 4: Identify Automatic Thoughts
This is where you would write down the first natural reaction (without hesitating) that comes to mind with the mood. With the examples above, Jim’s thoughts might be:
I’m bound to get fired
I’m letting the whole team down
I think reaching 100% is unrealistic
He’s not being fair
There goes my promotion
From that list, the most distressing thoughts (or hot thoughts) would be “I’m bound to get fired,” and, “I’m letting the whole team down”
Step 5: Find Objective Supportive Evidence
The goal of this step is to look objectively at what happened and write down specific events that led to the automatic thoughts. For Jim’s examples above, some of the evidence would be:
Other colleagues weren’t able to reach their goals
Another colleague was recently let go for not performing well
Step 6: Find Objective Contradictory Evidence
The goal of this step is to identify evidence that contradicts the automatic thoughts. For Jim’s example:
I never actually heard the team say that I let them down
I may not have reached 100% of my goals, but I worked hard at the ones I did complete and put in 100% effort
It Is not expected to finish 100% of the goals, but to get as close as possible
Step 7: Identify Fair and Balanced Thoughts
Now that you have looked at both sides of the situation, it’s time to take a fair view of what happened and write down a more balanced thought. For Jim, his balanced thought would be:
I wasn’t able to reach 100% of my goals, but I did manage to put in 100% effort of the ones I have completed.
My colleagues all have their own goals to work on and it is unrealistic to complete all the goals
My boss never showed disappointment when he told me how much I have completed
I know I have worked hard in this position and it was reflected in the other comments made in the performance review
Step 8: Monitor Your Present Mood
Now that you have come up with a more balanced thought, notice how your mood has improved. How do you feel now?
Rational reframing helps identify different points of view going from dark, negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours to a much more balanced interpretation. If you find your automatic thoughts come across as unhelpful, perhaps consider following the steps above. As a final note, like any change in ourselves, physically or mentally, it is not expected to happen overnight. It takes practice. You may find that those balanced thoughts come across as a bit contrived or artificial, but practicing them on a regular basis can help rewire that pattern of thought.
For more information on Rational Reframing or Cognitive Restructuring, take a look at the following articles:
Using Cognitive Reframing for Mental Health
Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief
Cognitive Restructuring: The Complete Guide on How to Reframe Your Beliefs
CBT’s Cognitive Restructuring (CR) For Tackling Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive Restructuring: Reducing Stress by Changing Your Thinking