Do you control your thoughts or do your thoughts control you? The answer to this question can provide insight into how successful you are at handling the less-than-ideal situations that life will inevitably throw at you.
Have you noticed that when certain situations arise, your inner voice and thoughts are often automatic? We can have a positive or negative reaction to a situation simply because we have experienced something like it before. In other cases, we are not equipped to handle a challenge due to other outside factors draining our resolve.
What if you could change your automatic patterns? Automatic reactions are necessary, as our brains learn to recognize patterns in situations to give us clues for how to act. This shortens the time between thoughts about what we experience and the resulting action. However, negative emotions overtake the rational sides of our brains and distort reality to its most negative versions.
Here’s an example: Suppose you are anxious whenever you teach a new class and automatically feel like every misstep and mistake is keenly observed by everyone and they are judging your poor performance every step of the way.
The situation: You are about to teach a new fitness class.
What are your feelings/emotions? You feel anxious and afraid of looking foolish and doing something wrong.
What are you thinking that created these feelings/emotions? You believe everyone in the class is comparing you to other, more competent group fitness instructors they’ve encountered in the past.
What cognitive distortions are present? You know nothing about the experiences of anyone in the room in this specific class. You feel you won’t measure up to some preconceived idea your participants have of what constitutes a “perfect” instructor.
What would be more accurate thoughts? There may be new people, advanced people and everything in between who have a wide range of fitness experience. “I’ve worked really hard to prepare this class and I am going to do my best to give them a fun, effective workout.
How will you respond differently next time this situation occurs? Ask yourself: “What do I truly know about this class and the people here? Why do I think automatically assume they won’t enjoy my class?”
This series of questions is designed to provide you with the steps to dissect a negative thought cycle and develop a plan for changing the thoughts in similar future situations.
Simply interrupting the automatic response itself can provide a more thoughtful experience as you navigate a difficult situation.
In using these steps we want to achieve the following objectives:
- CATCH the thoughts – become aware of automatic thoughts
- CHECK the thoughts – ask yourself, “How realistic are these thoughts?”
- CHALLENGE the thoughts – identify cognitive distortions
- CHANGE the thoughts – replace unrealistic, irrational or inaccurate thoughts with more accurate ones
The ultimate objective is to develop better automatic responses to challenging situations, especially those we find ourselves in repeatedly and with which we tend to cope poorly.
Behaviors (actions) start with thoughts about a situation. If we seek to change behavior, it is actually easier and more powerful and effective to focus on the thoughts that precede the actions, rather than on the actions themselves.
For expanded study of these topics with CECs, see the ACE Behavior Change Specialist course, specifically pages 96 to 101, which cover the process of cognitive behavior coaching.