“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” – Maya Angelou
I am possibly the world’s biggest fan of Cognitive Reframing, or Restructuring as it’s sometimes referred to. Essentially it simply involves finding an alternative way of viewing a challenging situation or event, or turning our perception of something as a problem into an opportunity.
I’ve used it a few times in my life, most often in order to get myself to do something that scared the crap out of me. The most recent example was when I agreed to sing at my singing teacher’s small concert. She asked me on my third lesson I believe, when the concert was almost two months away, and I figured hell, why not..I should probably have a little challenge on the horizon. Clearly by then I will be nowhere near as terrified of it as I am now.
Yeah. A few days before the concert I was forced to admit that I was Really Nervous. That this single, unimportant event was starting to loom ever larger, eclipsing not only my entire Saturday, but the entire weekend, week, future life…it towered over me pointing its finger and threatening me with failure, embarrassment, disaster and doom. A lot of doom.
At which point I started to get a tiny bit impatient with my fearful psyche, and asked it what the hell the point was in doing this (or anything for that matter) if it wasn’t something I was going to enjoy? The point of the exercise you see, was not to sing in front of a room full of strangers but to enjoy singing in front of a room full of strangers. So completing the challenge without enjoying it would be tantamount to failure.
I decided to try reframing the event. I drew two columns on a piece of paper (I prefer old school tools for brainstorming); in the left hand column I wrote down all the fears that were swirling round my brain like dervishes (one of which, for your amusement, was “What do I do with my ARMS?!”), and in the right hand one I wrote “opportunity to show what I’ve learnt”; “bring out my inner performer”; “opportunity for growth”; “it’s exciting and FUN!”; “I know I can do this and I’m going to own it” and “really, no one cares. This is totally irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, even in your life”. I also gave myself credit for stepping up, as by this point I had only had 7 lessons, and I was literally a wreck the first time I sang in front of my teacher, so it was a big brave step for me.
As I read over my positive list a mixture of delight and excitement with a little aftertaste of disbelief washed over me. I believed in what I had written as an alternative attitude, and somewhere it was already in me or I wouldn’t have been able to come up with those attributes. And BAM! Just like that I was transformed from nervous and insecure into calm and confident. Literally. That easy.
I was relaxed with a sprinkling of excitement before the concert; the last tiny twinge of nervousness quickly evaporated during the silly warm-up exercises my teacher had us do, and the subsequent run-through of the songs, and by the time the audience had arrived and it was time to sing I was totally calm. I really enjoyed singing and my (admittedly somewhat biased) parents later told me that I looked like I was totally confident and enjoying myself :)
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” – Wayne Dyer
I’ve collected some steps for reframing which I hope can be helpful:
- Make a comprehensive list of your current BEATs on one side of a piece of paper (Beliefs/Emotions/Attitudes/Thoughts)**
- Adopt an observer position (dissociate from yourself) and write down alternative (positive) BEATs on the other side (Be creative! They can be quite random, whatever works for you. If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, try asking yourself “How would [Insert name of person you admire] approach this situation?”)
- Visualise yourself in the situation, feeling and behaving in accordance with your new positive BEATs
- Condense the positive attributes into a phrase to hold onto and repeat to yourself when needed
Crutches are allowed – for example it helped me to imagine myself as Dorothy when I sang “Somewhere over the rainbow” as I don’t have a problem acting in front of an audience, and in this case it was also helpful for the delivery of the song.
Your brain is infinitely malleable; take advantage of this fact and mold it into one that serves you optimally.//