A basic introduction to CBT and its benefits
If you are someone who overreacts in stressful or high pressure situations, you are doing yourself harm. Your health may suffer and from a mental point of view, you end up prolonging the problem you are facing because you get so panicked that your mind is unable to think clearly. Life is a constant state of change. You will have good times and you will have bad times. Yes, you can work hard on your life to ensure that the majority of your times are good times but it is impossible to eliminate all of the bad times. So, if you want to live a happy and fulfilled life; you absolutely must learn to stay calm under pressure and control your anger. If this is something which you need to do then, you need to consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT is essentially a set of tools used for psychotherapeutic interventions when treating anxiety disorders and other psychological conditions. CBT works under the premise that a great deal of the pain, suffering and negative outcomes you experience occur as a result of incorrect thinking. Your thinking impacts on every area of your life. You may seriously underestimate the power of your thoughts but Henry Ford was correct when he stated that your success or failure is largely determined by whether you think you can succeed or not.
Given the ability of your thoughts to determine your outcomes, it is definitely worth the effort to learn to manage your thoughts via CBT. CBT has been proven to be highly effective in a large number of studies and the great thing is that CBT is very easy to learn.
Here we will take a look at what CBT entails, why it’s so powerful and why it’s very much worth learning.
How CBT works
Before cognitive based explanations for behaviour; most behaviour was explained using explanations from the field of behaviourism. Behaviourism is a school of psychology which aims to explain behaviour as learned responses. Think of Pavlov’s dog where before the dog was fed, Pavlov would ring a bell. In time, the dog learned to associate the sound of the bell with food. So much so that eventually, the dog would begin to salivate, in preparation for eating, as soon as the bell rang; even when there was no food present.
Behaviourists argued that behaviour was a simple matter of stimulus and response. In the Pavlov’s dog example, the stimulus was the bell and the response was the salivating. They argued that behaviours that were rewarded were reinforced while behaviours which were punished became less common i.e. you learned how to behave via reward and punishment.
CBT takes this explanation further. They argue that it is our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes about the stimulus which influence our response. For example, if you believed that violence was wrong, you might walk away when somebody hits you. However, if you believe that you have the right to defend yourself, then you might hit that person back. In both scenarios, you have experienced the same stimulus but your response is dictated by what you believe.
Another interesting thing which the cognitive movement demonstrated was that your experiences, real or imagined, can influence your thinking and beliefs and therefore, your behaviour. For example, you may avoid dogs because you believe that they are dangerous and will bite you. It is possible that you were bitten by a dog; that you had a vision or dream of being bitten by a dog or, you may even have seen a dog biting a human on television. While only one of these experiences was real, all three could lead to the same fear or phobia of dogs. Your beliefs and predictions are enough to create an association.
The great thing about CBT is that it allows you to challenge your thoughts and beliefs, working backwards to attack the validity of the belief. You may challenge the belief on a number of grounds e.g. lack of evidence to support it or lack of usefulness. Once you successfully challenge your thoughts and beliefs, you can weaken them to the point that they no longer influence your behaviour.
An example of CBT in action
One of the most common fears is the fear of public speaking. People tend to fear that they will make mistakes and everybody will laugh at them. The reality is usually that people want you to do well and are encouraging and supportive. The fear of public speaking usually deters the person from public speaking so they usually do not have a great deal of evidence to support their negative belief.
The following are two really simple ways to use CBT based techniques to challenge the validity of the negative belief.
1. Gradual exposure
Start by delivering a talk to a very small group, even just one person. See how it goes, ask for feedback and gradually increase the size of the group you are talking to.
You will usually see that you don’t have any of the negative experiences you anticipated and the feedback is positive. Any negative feedback provides an opportunity to learn and develop your skills; reducing the likelihood of negative experiences in the future.
2. Hypothesis testing
One of the best ways to challenge a negative belief is to test it. To do this, you can deliberately make some mistakes and see how the audience and yourself react. You will rarely find any negativity. Most people realise that we all make mistakes and they are more likely to have empathy than any negative emotion.
By continuing on with your presentation, you will also prove to yourself that you can cope with any problems or mistakes which may occur.
If you struggle to stay calm and deal with the problems you encounter, check out Breathe.
The majority of the fear and negativity you experience in your everyday life is of your own making. You hold thoughts and beliefs which influence your behaviour; often in a negative way. Quite often, these thoughts and beliefs have been developed over time and have no real basis in reality. If you wish to make progress and improve your life, you need to learn to challenge these thoughts and beliefs. CBT is an outstanding tool to help you challenge these thoughts and beliefs and free yourself from the constraints they place upon you.