CBT stands for ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ and is currently the most popular form of therapy for a range of psychological issues. If you go to the doctor with a phobia, an obsessive compulsive disorder, or an addiction, chances are that they will these days refer you to a cognitive behavioural therapist rather than psychotherapist or therapist of another discipline.
The basic idea behind CBT is that you are ‘reprogramming’ your thoughts. Your thoughts lead to your feelings and those feelings lead to actions, so if you have unhealthy feelings or are acting strangely, the solution is often to change the way you’re thinking in order to cause a chain reaction of changes to ultimately solve the problem.
This has been demonstrated in countless studies to be an effective approach which is one reason that it has become so popular. The other big benefit of CBT though is that it is also very cheap and quick to implement. While psychotherapy requires months of treatment, CBT usually involves a number of exercises that the patient can do themselves at home. This saves you and the health institute money and time and in some cases treatment can even take place over e-mail.
In theory then, that means that you could actually benefit from CBT with no need to see anyone by just learning the techniques and applying them to your own situation. And in practice this is often the case – in severe situations it’s still advisable to get professional help, but that’s not to say you can’t do a lot of good on your own too.
If you currently consider yourself to be healthy psychologically, then that’s not to say that you can’t benefit from CBT exercises as a way to become even happier, healthier and more well adapted. So here then are a few CBT exercises you can try yourself in order to see some highly beneficial changes in your thinking and your life.
The Top CBT Exercises You Can Try Yourself
As humans we have a bad tendency to ‘mull’ on the negative things that happen to us and to focus on our problems. This can be useful when it comes to finding solutions, but it can also have the result of making us rather negative and pessimistic.
What’s important then is to spend some time thinking about the positives in order to remind yourself of why life is great and why you’ll likely look back on today as a great time in your life. Even if you think you’re in a bad situation right now there must still be things you’re grateful for whether it’s your health, your partner, your friends or your full head of hair. Every now and then, try making a list of these things and you’ll find it’s great for your overall happiness.
One of the most often used tools on a CBT professional’s toolbelt is ‘mindfulness’. This is a form of meditation where the idea is to reflect on your own thoughts rather than to shut out your ‘background chatter’.
For instance then, you might try closing your eyes somewhere quiet and then just letting your thoughts drift freely. Without trying to influence their direction, just observe them and you’ll be able to identify any negative thoughts that come up often or any current stresses that are weighing down on you. Now you’ll know what the negative thoughts you experience regularly are, and you can start making an effort to stop them or improve them.
While mindfulness can be a powerful tool for self-analysis, it won’t always yield results because a lot of problems tend to be situational. In other words, if you have a fear of heights, you’re unlikely to find that this is on your mind when you’re just meditating in the morning.
Instead then, keeping a diary where you write down your negative thoughts can be another good way to spot problem thought patterns that could be bringing you down. Keep a notepad or a diary with you, and then write down thoughts as they come to you as a way to identify problems that you can later try to fix. This also gives you a good way to record your progress and to see positive changes as they come about.
Positive affirmations are positive phrases that you repeat to yourself over and again in order to try and get them to ‘sink in’. Often these will be designed to counter some of the negative thoughts you identify through mindfulness.
For instance, if you are afraid of public speaking and you’ve identified that you’re worried about stuttering, then a useful affirmation could be ‘it’s not the end of the world if I stutter’, or ‘I’m an assured and eloquent speaker’. The idea is that by repeating these phrases enough, you can eventually start to believe them, and they can eventually start to become habit. Now instead of ‘defaulting’ to negative thought patterns, you might default to these positive affirmations that give you more confidence and put your concerns to rest.
Another way that therapists combat negative thought patterns is to get their patients to disprove those thoughts and beliefs.
For instance, if you believe that stuttering will result in you getting booed off the stage, it can be useful to simply try stuttering on stage to see what happens. What you’ll find is that the audience wait patiently, because people are sympathetic. Once you’ve shattered your unhealthy belief, this can end up removing your fear. And even if you don’t try challenging your belief in real life, you can find it’s also highly effective to simply think about what would happen. Imagine yourself stuttering on stage, and then think realistically about what would happen. Eventually you can convince yourself there’s nothing to fear.
Pleasant Activity Scheduling
This is a technique used particularly to treat depression and stress, which simply involves scheduling one pleasant activity for every day of the week. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but the simple fact you have something enjoyable to look forward to can make a big difference to your mood.
So there you have it, a whole roster of cognitive behavioural therapy techniques that you can try out for yourself. Give them a go, and you may just find that life gets a little easier and a little more rewarding.