Avoiding sink holes: Identify and deal with negative beliefs

The goal of this intervention:
This intervention is a continuation of the cognitive behavior theme and a sequel to the Reframing the situation exercise. It delves deeper into how some beliefs are formed and what can be done to challenge these beliefs before they lead to regrettable actions.

The goal of this exercise is to become more aware of the common traps we sometimes fall into when situations occur (how we often internalize, explain or rationalize things). More importantly, we seek to redirect these negative thoughts into more positive and productive cognitive behaviors.

How to conduct this intervention:
Try to complete this exercise using recent events in your daily life or things that happen to you over the next week or two. Record examples of these events that might fit into any or all of the following categories. Here’s an example for jumping to conclusions: my sister called yesterday and asked what I was up to. I immediately assumed she was looking for a favor- like covering for her down at the club where she works. I could feel my blood pressure rising- I felt like I was being backed into a corner.

Sink Hole Signs: What happened?

  • Jumping to conclusions - Responding impulsively to situations before you have full information. Loss of control over emotions.
  • Tunnel vision -  Focusing on the negative. On behaviors that mesh with your thinking (negative or positive)—ignoring data that could disconfirm beliefs.
  • Magnifying and minimizing - Collecting all the information, but overvaluing some and undervaluing others. Leads to self fulfilling prophesy. Growth and change requires a balanced, accurate appraisal of the situation.
  • Personalization -  Reflex tendency to attribute problems to one’s own doing. Often leads to depression and/or guilt (because others have been violated and it’s your fault). You only see the internal causes of a problem and not the external cause. Resiliency requires accuracy. Self efficacy requires belief that you can change the internal causes.
  • Externalizing - Opposite of personalizing. Problems are rarely your fault. Protects the person’s self esteem. Externalizers fail to identify the problems that were genuinely their fault and within their control. They think everyone else has let them down. Prone to anger.
  • Over generalizing - Character assassination reaction to problems (I’m a bad parent). Explanatory style (me, always, everything).
  • Mind Reading - Those who jump to conclusions. Getting angry because others can’t read your mind and know what to do/say. Gets in the way of problem solving. Ask questions to understand/clarify the situation before making assumptions.
  • Emotional Reasoning -  Falsely attributing positive emotion. I’m feeling good so I must have convinced them that I’m the person for the job. Drawing false conclusions about the world based on your emotional state.

Questions to ponder:

  • How many situations/examples were you able to come up with from your daily life
  • Do you tend to fall into one or two “sink holes” consistently— or are there more?
  • What might you take away from this in terms of understanding yourself?
  • How do you think your mood might be affected by your sink holes?
  • How do you feel about yourself after a sink hole reaction?
  • For each example you give, what might be a different way to reframe the situation? How might your response change with this reframing?

Expected outcome
Resilience is depleted when we take actions that are based on false or inaccurate beliefs. Conversely, resilience can be bolstered when we can consider problems more comprehensively-- with all the information that is available at hand. Information helps us make better, more accurate judgments.

Things to watch out for

  • It’s often easier to practice this skill after a situation of adversity—when emotions have died down and you have a fresh perspective. It might be better for your client to practice this exercise several times (or more) before expecting it to work during an actual incident.
  • It is not uncommon for us to see issues as black or white. Trying to reframe situations to see that there might actually be “gray” is not an easy task, especially in the heat of the moment. But practice does make it easier.
  • Reframing sink holes may challenge life-learned habits of induction (x therefore y). This exercise may surface the fact that mistakes can and do happen—even when it disputes natural induction tendencies.

Is there any science to support this intervention
This exercise has its roots in the cognitive therapy work originated by Aaron Beck. Cognitive therapy is based on the belief that patients learn to change their thinking to overcome depression and anxiety.

The Penn Resiliency Project (PRP) has done extensive research in the areas of optimism and resiliency including 13 controlled studies among 2000 participants. Majority of these studies showed positive effects on anxiety and behavior.

Thank you to www.zonepositive.com for providing some great resources!
Find more resources at http://zonepositive.com/resources/positive-exercises/

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