Cognitive restructuring, also known as cognitive reframing, is a cognitive therapy-related behavioral strategy. "Cognitive restructuring is learning how to think differently, to replace underlying "faulty thinking" with more reasonable, realistic, and maybe positive thinking," explains Sally R. Jenkins in her book on cognitive therapy.
Irrational beliefs are unproductive thoughts that can lead to inappropriate feelings and behaviors. An example of an irrational belief would be "I must lose weight before I go on vacation because otherwise I'll look fat." This thought is dysfunctional because it makes us feel bad about our body shape and forces us to take action we may not want to take (such as going to a lot of effort to lose weight).
In order to change these irrational beliefs, we need to examine them closely. What evidence is there for or against this belief? If evidence exists, then we should consider its validity. For example, if many people believe that you cannot win over someone's heart by text message, then this belief is likely based on fact rather than fantasy. Even so, this belief is still irrational because it leads to negative emotions (such as disappointment) and ineffective actions (for example, no one has ever won someone's heart through a text message).
Once we have identified an irrational belief, we can work on replacing it with a new thought that is more productive.
Cognitive restructuring is a series of therapy strategies that assist people in recognizing and changing harmful thought patterns. When harmful and self-defeating thinking patterns emerge, it's a good idea to look into strategies to interrupt and redirect them. For example, if you believe that people don't like you, listening to positive comments about yourself can help change that belief. If you think that you're not capable of succeeding, telling yourself you can do something difficult will help you overcome this belief.
These are just some examples of how cognitive restructuring can help someone recognize and change destructive thinking patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective form of therapy that uses cognitive restructuring to address emotional problems. In addition to discussing ways to change damaging thoughts, therapists also help patients learn more effective coping mechanisms. For example, if you believe that failures are indications that you're not smart enough to succeed, learning how to face challenges head-on and studying for exams until they're done would go a long way toward changing that belief.
Cognitive restructuring is an important component in many forms of therapy, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In ACT, patients are taught to be aware of their thoughts and not to judge them as true or false. They are asked to notice their automatic thoughts and consider whether these beliefs are helpful or not.
"Cognitive restructuring is paying attention to thoughts, identifying when they are unreasonable, questioning them, and adopting alternative beliefs and actions," Connolly explains. "People learn to talk to themselves in healthy ways so that they may let go of self-defeating language."
Healing rational thinking takes practice. It doesn't happen overnight. But once you understand how thought patterns work, you can start changing them.
If you're asking yourself how to change your irrational thoughts, then the answer is simple: change your thinking and you'll change your feelings.
We all have thoughts that don't make sense. We call these irrational thoughts because they aren't based on evidence; instead, they're simply assumptions that we've made about life that don't reflect reality. For example, if you believe that people who get ahead in life take advantage of others or are only friendly to you because they want something from you, you're operating under an irrational assumption.
Irrational thoughts can be good questions for you to ask yourself whenever you feel like thinking irrationally. When you catch yourself thinking something that isn't true, stop and question its validity. Is this thought reasonable? If not, replace it with a more rational one.