Three simple cognitive reframing techniques to move beyond self-doubt


If you’ve ever experienced a setback at work, you might have landed in a pit of self-doubt. Next time this happens, try these three cognitive reframing techniques to adjust your thinking.

When you find yourself in the thick of a challenging situation, a swell of negative feelings and thoughts of self-doubt can quickly take over.

You might have had funding for a project pulled, maybe you received negative feedback at work, or perhaps a recent altercation with a colleague has left you feeling anxious and stressed.

By drawing on a technique known as cognitive reframing, you can start to challenge your negative internal monologue.

Mark Oostergo, General Manager and Principal Psychologist at Communicorp, and Shadé Zahrai, a leadership expert who will be delivering a keynote talk at AHRI’s convention in August, share insights into some of the common internal blocks and cognitive reframing techniques that can help you to view a difficult situation in a more realistic and helpful light.

Change language intensity

Dialling down the language used to describe a situation can go a long way in helping someone to reframe their negative thinking.

“Try to adjust the adjectives and the intensity of the language used,” says Oostergo. “For example, instead of viewing something as a failure, which is a really strong word, maybe instead say that you weren’t successful.” 

When someone describes a situation they were involved in as a ‘failure’, they’re often implicitly making a comment about themselves, he says.

“Underneath it, what does that comment mean about you? When you delve into it, quite often the person perceives themselves as a failure.”

Suggested reframe:

Consider replacing the statement against the red background below with the one in green:

[Hold and drag the bar sideways in the image below to see Zahrai’s example of changing language intensity] 

Oostergo recalls working with a high-performing leader who was kicking goals at work for a long period of time when, out of the blue, he experienced a major setback.

He applied a simple framework to help the leader reframe his thinking called the start, stop and continue method. It poses questions such as:

  • Start: What steps should I take next time that I didn’t take this time?
  • Stop: What shouldn’t I do next time that I did this time?
  • Continue: What steps should I continue doing that worked well for me this time?

“We don’t just want to focus on the negatives, we also want to bring out the positives. Going through this reflection activity and a framework to support the growth mindset is part of the challenge,” says Oostergo.

“When we get stuck in a negative mindset, we view everything through a lens where we’re constantly focused on the negatives and we look for evidence to support that negative view. 

“By supporting people with a framework that’s asking them to look at everything, they can actually start to look at some of the positives as well. It’s helping them look at that situation as an opportunity to learn and develop. It’s also about being able to bounce back.”

Avoid generalisations and absolutes

Words such as ‘never’ and ‘always’ take a specific situation and expand it into a broader statement that’s often a judgment about a person’s ability or character.

Zahrai, who is the Principal and Director of Influenceo Global, a leadership development, consulting and research firm, says absolute words can “subconsciously block you because you don’t give yourself room for change”.

Suggested reframe:

Consider replacing the statement against the blue background below with the one in green:

[Hold and drag the bar sideways in the image below to see Zahrai’s example of changing language intensity] 

Reframing the thought can help you to take charge of a situation and bring about the changes you hope to see.

Part of Oostergo’s work with leaders includes him helping them to see the situation as a discrete example, instead of generalising to other situations, or making judgments about their own character flaws.

“How do we take that bigger picture view and ask, ‘What were the external factors here? What did you have control over, and what could you not control that contributed to this situation?’

“Generalisations happen when someone thinks because it happened once, it will happen all the time. Looking at the situation as a whole helps to challenge that thinking.”

Reframe your ‘What if’s’

It’s easy to fall into the trap of asking ‘What if?’ about all sorts of hypothetical scenarios: ‘What if I don’t achieve my goals?’ ‘What if we lose that client for our business?’ ‘What if I don’t get a promotion?’ – the list goes on.

Our ‘What if’s’ tend to cover the worst case scenario, or jump to a conclusion about how we’ll feel if something doesn’t work out in our favour. 

Zahrai’s advice is to reframe your ‘What if’s?’ into a more positive hypothetical. Assume things might work out in your favour, and even if they don’t, there might be a valuable lesson to be gleaned along the way.

Suggested reframe:

Consider replacing the statement against the red background below with the one in green:

[Hold and drag the bar sideways in the image below to see Zahrai’s example of reframing a ‘what if’] 

Oostergo says changing the ‘What if?’ into a positive can be beneficial, but he takes this reframe a step further by questioning the usefulness of ‘What if’s’ altogether.

“Consider whether asking ‘What if?’ all the time is a helpful way of thinking. I’d suggest asking yourself what you know about the situation and then come back to that. If you’re focusing on ‘What if?’ then you’re probably worrying about the future, so bring yourself back to focus on what you are able to influence in the present as there might be a number of other external factors.”

Systemic factors

Reframing your negative thoughts about a situation can be a powerful tool to shift focus, but there are often broader systemic problems that could be feeding into your thought pattern.

In the event that you’re overworked, swamped with unrealistic deadlines or working in a toxic environment, it might feel invalidating to hear advice that you should simply view your situation through a more positive lens.

Oostergo says addressing problems at work is often a balancing act between making changes on an individual level as well as on a broader organisational scale.

“I would suggest that a robust psychosocial risk management framework needs to be in place where you’re actually addressing some of the broader risks that may be putting your or other employees’ wellbeing at risk,” he says.

“It’s also about feeling empowered and confident to raise the issue. Think about where might be the appropriate place to raise the issue, and look at whether there is a pattern of this happening across the organisation. Are there unrealistic demands on employees? If so, how do you address some of those demands?”

If it’s a resourcing issue, then it might be time to talk to your manager about whether it’s possible to bring in another team member, even on a short-term basis, to lend additional support. Or if your stress and negative thinking has been brought on by feeling ill-equipped to manage the demands of the job, extra training and support might be necessary. 

Or it could be that you’re not receiving the support you need to confidently perform well. 

Employees and leaders are often left to try and read people’s minds and make assumptions about their own performance when they don’t receive consistent feedback, says Oostergo.

More often than not, the conclusions they come to tend to be negative, he says.

“When people aren’t getting that input, it can be really hard for them to ascertain: ‘What am I doing right? And what do I need to do to improve?’

HR professionals also need to know if  managers have the capability and confidence to provide consistent feedback.

If the answer they don’t, it might be time to communicate that with them by asking for the support you need to learn, grow and succeed at work

guest
2 Comments
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Menaka Cooke
Menaka Cooke
22 days ago

Great reframes to boost your personal positivity and self-esteem

Koloona71
Koloona71
21 days ago

Love the reframing sliding bar but the third one is a repeat of the 2nd 🙁

More on HRM

Three simple cognitive reframing techniques to move beyond self-doubt


If you’ve ever experienced a setback at work, you might have landed in a pit of self-doubt. Next time this happens, try these three cognitive reframing techniques to adjust your thinking.

When you find yourself in the thick of a challenging situation, a swell of negative feelings and thoughts of self-doubt can quickly take over.

You might have had funding for a project pulled, maybe you received negative feedback at work, or perhaps a recent altercation with a colleague has left you feeling anxious and stressed.

By drawing on a technique known as cognitive reframing, you can start to challenge your negative internal monologue.

Mark Oostergo, General Manager and Principal Psychologist at Communicorp, and Shadé Zahrai, a leadership expert who will be delivering a keynote talk at AHRI’s convention in August, share insights into some of the common internal blocks and cognitive reframing techniques that can help you to view a difficult situation in a more realistic and helpful light.

Change language intensity

Dialling down the language used to describe a situation can go a long way in helping someone to reframe their negative thinking.

“Try to adjust the adjectives and the intensity of the language used,” says Oostergo. “For example, instead of viewing something as a failure, which is a really strong word, maybe instead say that you weren’t successful.” 

When someone describes a situation they were involved in as a ‘failure’, they’re often implicitly making a comment about themselves, he says.

“Underneath it, what does that comment mean about you? When you delve into it, quite often the person perceives themselves as a failure.”

Suggested reframe:

Consider replacing the statement against the red background below with the one in green:

[Hold and drag the bar sideways in the image below to see Zahrai’s example of changing language intensity] 

Oostergo recalls working with a high-performing leader who was kicking goals at work for a long period of time when, out of the blue, he experienced a major setback.

He applied a simple framework to help the leader reframe his thinking called the start, stop and continue method. It poses questions such as:

  • Start: What steps should I take next time that I didn’t take this time?
  • Stop: What shouldn’t I do next time that I did this time?
  • Continue: What steps should I continue doing that worked well for me this time?

“We don’t just want to focus on the negatives, we also want to bring out the positives. Going through this reflection activity and a framework to support the growth mindset is part of the challenge,” says Oostergo.

“When we get stuck in a negative mindset, we view everything through a lens where we’re constantly focused on the negatives and we look for evidence to support that negative view. 

“By supporting people with a framework that’s asking them to look at everything, they can actually start to look at some of the positives as well. It’s helping them look at that situation as an opportunity to learn and develop. It’s also about being able to bounce back.”

Avoid generalisations and absolutes

Words such as ‘never’ and ‘always’ take a specific situation and expand it into a broader statement that’s often a judgment about a person’s ability or character.

Zahrai, who is the Principal and Director of Influenceo Global, a leadership development, consulting and research firm, says absolute words can “subconsciously block you because you don’t give yourself room for change”.

Suggested reframe:

Consider replacing the statement against the blue background below with the one in green:

[Hold and drag the bar sideways in the image below to see Zahrai’s example of changing language intensity] 

Reframing the thought can help you to take charge of a situation and bring about the changes you hope to see.

Part of Oostergo’s work with leaders includes him helping them to see the situation as a discrete example, instead of generalising to other situations, or making judgments about their own character flaws.

“How do we take that bigger picture view and ask, ‘What were the external factors here? What did you have control over, and what could you not control that contributed to this situation?’

“Generalisations happen when someone thinks because it happened once, it will happen all the time. Looking at the situation as a whole helps to challenge that thinking.”

Reframe your ‘What if’s’

It’s easy to fall into the trap of asking ‘What if?’ about all sorts of hypothetical scenarios: ‘What if I don’t achieve my goals?’ ‘What if we lose that client for our business?’ ‘What if I don’t get a promotion?’ – the list goes on.

Our ‘What if’s’ tend to cover the worst case scenario, or jump to a conclusion about how we’ll feel if something doesn’t work out in our favour. 

Zahrai’s advice is to reframe your ‘What if’s?’ into a more positive hypothetical. Assume things might work out in your favour, and even if they don’t, there might be a valuable lesson to be gleaned along the way.

Suggested reframe:

Consider replacing the statement against the red background below with the one in green:

[Hold and drag the bar sideways in the image below to see Zahrai’s example of reframing a ‘what if’] 

Oostergo says changing the ‘What if?’ into a positive can be beneficial, but he takes this reframe a step further by questioning the usefulness of ‘What if’s’ altogether.

“Consider whether asking ‘What if?’ all the time is a helpful way of thinking. I’d suggest asking yourself what you know about the situation and then come back to that. If you’re focusing on ‘What if?’ then you’re probably worrying about the future, so bring yourself back to focus on what you are able to influence in the present as there might be a number of other external factors.”

Systemic factors

Reframing your negative thoughts about a situation can be a powerful tool to shift focus, but there are often broader systemic problems that could be feeding into your thought pattern.

In the event that you’re overworked, swamped with unrealistic deadlines or working in a toxic environment, it might feel invalidating to hear advice that you should simply view your situation through a more positive lens.

Oostergo says addressing problems at work is often a balancing act between making changes on an individual level as well as on a broader organisational scale.

“I would suggest that a robust psychosocial risk management framework needs to be in place where you’re actually addressing some of the broader risks that may be putting your or other employees’ wellbeing at risk,” he says.

“It’s also about feeling empowered and confident to raise the issue. Think about where might be the appropriate place to raise the issue, and look at whether there is a pattern of this happening across the organisation. Are there unrealistic demands on employees? If so, how do you address some of those demands?”

If it’s a resourcing issue, then it might be time to talk to your manager about whether it’s possible to bring in another team member, even on a short-term basis, to lend additional support. Or if your stress and negative thinking has been brought on by feeling ill-equipped to manage the demands of the job, extra training and support might be necessary. 

Or it could be that you’re not receiving the support you need to confidently perform well. 

Employees and leaders are often left to try and read people’s minds and make assumptions about their own performance when they don’t receive consistent feedback, says Oostergo.

More often than not, the conclusions they come to tend to be negative, he says.

“When people aren’t getting that input, it can be really hard for them to ascertain: ‘What am I doing right? And what do I need to do to improve?’

HR professionals also need to know if  managers have the capability and confidence to provide consistent feedback.

If the answer they don’t, it might be time to communicate that with them by asking for the support you need to learn, grow and succeed at work

guest
2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Menaka Cooke
Menaka Cooke
22 days ago

Great reframes to boost your personal positivity and self-esteem

Koloona71
Koloona71
21 days ago

Love the reframing sliding bar but the third one is a repeat of the 2nd 🙁

More on HRM