5 Ways to Use Cognitive Reframing for a Better Life


Apr 19
cognitive reframing

What is reframing?

Reframing is a technique that anyone can start using in their own lives . As you are about to read, reframing will not just make you feel better it can actually change and improve your brain.

The reframing technique is used in a number of different therapies including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and NLP (Neural Linguistic Programming). Indeed I use it extensively in my own hypnosis audio sessions because of how powerful it can be.

Reframing works by helping people to create a different way of looking at an aspect of their life. They might reframe the way they look at a situation, a person, a relationship or even a challenge they are experiencing in life.

An Example of a reframe

I work with a lot with professional football players and it always interests me how successful players frame thoughts and experiences. What is more interesting is how their frames actually change when they are are experiencing a rut or they have higher levels of stress in their lives.

Take for example a high level player that I was working with. He had come to me after his anxiety was getting the better of him and his performances had deteriorated,

We discussed his thoughts before a game and he told me that they were the same now as when we playing well. He explained that he always had fear before a game and that was what motivated him and made sure he played at his best. However, he said it was this same fear that was now negatively causing his performances to deteriorate.

But was it?

We discussed his previous fear that made him perform brilliantly and then his current fears that caused him to play badly. Although the situations were very similar it was clear to me that the way he was framing the situations differently in his mind..

First we discussed the 'fear' he was experiencing since his drop in performance. He said he would focus on the great players that he was up against (just like he always did). The anxiety would build, (just like it always did), but now his performances were not like they were.

When we went into it further we found that there was actually a very distinct difference that had crept into his frame.

When he was playing well he had still focused on the great players he was up against. Great players such as Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez.  However, these fears were actually framed differently. What he described as 'fear' he actually saw these future battles as positive challenges. The anxiety was almost excitement that fuelled his desire to do well.

Now it was different…

He was still focusing on the players he was up against, but rather than seeing this as a challenge that he was capable of, he had negatively reframed this. Now he was focusing on his own inadequacies. He was focusing on how his opponent would probably get the better of him. He was focusing on how difficult it was going to be and how he was unlikely to be able to cope.

In this case it was a very simple reframe that I asked him to work on. We already knew what worked for him, so this was all about helping him to see those subtle differences and without wanting to coin another term - RE-REFRAMING the situation!

With this example and with most examples we need to be looking at situations in a better way. I wouldn't necessarily say a more positive way (although this what they usually are). It is more a case of approaching life and situations with a solution focused mindset.

Why do reframes work so well?

So why did this frame cause so much of an issue and why did this and other reframes have such positive impacts?

They work so well as they directly influence our brains.

Talking very simplistically and broadly speaking we have two parts of our brains. One is the primitive part that is there for survival reasons. It is great for helping us to fight or run away from situations where our lives are in danger.

The other part is the amazing intellectual brain. It gives us confidence, helps us to perform tasks well, come up with solutions to complex problems and in general it helps us cope brilliantly with day to day life.

When it comes to the primitive brain, it is fuelled by negative thinking. If we hooked someone up to an fMRI machine and asked them to think negative thoughts we would see the blood rushing to this part of their brain.

However, the reverse is also true. If we have someone focusing on positive thoughts the blood will go to the intellectual part of the brain. However, even more powerful than positive thoughts are solution focused thoughts. 

What we are in essence doing with a reframe is we are helping ourselves or our clients be more in control and more empowered by getting their intellectual brains in control. In reality we are literally using our thoughts to fire off signals in the intellectual part of the brain, rather than the primitive part of the brain. 

When this is done consistently we can wire this new way of thinking (the reframe) into our subconscious thinking so it becomes a habit. Something brilliant that we do naturally.

Examples of Reframes to use today to improve your life

Below are 5 simple everyday examples that you can use today to get the right parts of your brain engaged by reframing your life

Reframe Example 1

Situation: There are dark grey clouds all above you and it’s starting to rain.

How people might be thinking before the reframe:

  • I hate the rain
  • it’s so miserable
  • It always rains here
  • It puts such a dampener on life
  • It’s probably going to ruin my day
  • ...In fact it’s probably going to rain like this for the rest of the week. 

Ideas on how you could reframe the situation:

What we want to look for is how could this be a good thing, if you absolutely had to give a few reasons why the weather was something that would lift you, rather than bring you down what would they be?

As you walk through the rain maybe you think things such as:

  • My garden will get that much needed watering that it needed.
  • I love the way the rain feels against my skin.
  • I love being out in the rain and experiencing amazing mother nature.
  • I love experiencing the rain as it makes me enjoy the sunshine even more.

What others can you think of?

Reframe Example 2

Situation: You are stuck in traffic

How some people might be thinking before the reframe:

  • I hate being stuck in traffic!
  • It’s probably some idiot who’s been driving too fast and caused an accident.
  •  I’m going to be late for work and people are going to be so angry with me. 

Ideas on how you could reframe the situation:

  • Getting stressed or angry isn’t going to get me there any quicker. I might as well relax.
  • I can learn from this. Next time I will leave a little earlier just in case there is traffic again.
  • It’s raining outside, but how cozy it is in my car!?
  • There is nothing that I can do to make me get there any faster so I’m going to enjoy some music from the car radio or take this time to do some affirmations.

Reframe Example 3

Situation: You have got a deadline for a report / homework / coursework etc.

How some people might be thinking before the reframe:

  • I cannot be bothered to do this.
  • I’ll start this tomorrow/next week / maybe never!
  • It’s too hard. It’s pointless. I’d rather go out with my friends / go to the gym / watch paint dry!.

Ideas on how you could reframe the situations:

  • Doing this work is an opportunity to get a good grade, improve my knowledge / writing skills.
  • If I put the effort in to do this now I’ll feel much better and less stressed.
  • Just think what I could do tomorrow if I free myself up and get this completed today.
  • How great will I feel tomorrow if I get this done now?

Reframe Example 4

Situation: You have a job interview

How some people Might be feeling:: Anxious.

Idea of how you could reframe the feeling:

In terms of the chemicals released within the body and the feelings it produces, anxiety is actually very similar to excitement.

Walk like you’re happy, hold yourself like you are empowered, talk like you’re strong and all the time tell yourself that it’s excitement that you are feeling. You will be surprised at the positive impact this can have upon you.

Reframe Example 5

Situation: Someone close to you has died

This is perhaps the most difficult event that we as human beings face. I’ve put this one in at the end to show you how we can can actually reframe anything.

However, with this one it is very much advisable to get professional help if it is impacting you to a great extent. Reframing is a great technique to practice in life, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. 

When it comes to some issues, particularly this one it can be very difficult, but persevering with reframing can compliment any therapy that you are receiving and be a great tool for helping you with your grief.

How some people might be feeling before the reframe:

I will not put anything in here to give fuel to the primitive brain. I think it’s fairly obvious the sort of things that go through a persons mind at times of grief.

Ideas on how you could reframe the situation:

  • I am grateful for the wonderful times we spent together.
  • Experiencing life with them has been a true honour
  • They are going to a better place.
  • I am going to honour them by being a brilliant and caring person.
  • I know they would have wanted me to be happy so I am going to focus on positives as they would have wanted.

Remember the actual process that is happening in your brain when you reframe something. Not only will it lift you and make you feel better but by reframing you are actually improving the infrastructure of your brain!