Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a go-to methodology for licensed therapists to treat people with anxiety and depression. CBT has proven its effectiveness in research and practice settings. I am not a therapist, so I learned about CBT from people smarter than me.
As with most things that cross my mind and heart, I look for ways they can help my clients manage their tasks and time. CBT is no different.
So, take a deep breath, lean back, and let this non-therapist talk to you about a few principles from CBT, such as the cognitive triangle.
No, the cognitive triangle is not located in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. There are two or three good ACC schools in that area, but we don’t talk about those in my household.
The cognitive triangle is a concept from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that describes the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The basic idea is that these three aspects of our lives are interconnected and influence each other.
In the cognitive triangle, thoughts can affect our feelings, which in turn can impact our behaviors.
For example, when we have negative thoughts about a task, we may feel unmotivated or anxious about it, which can lead to behaviors such as procrastination.
Alternately, when we have positive thoughts about a task, we may feel motivated and confident, which can lead to more productive behaviors.
Our behaviors can influence how we think about a similar task the next time we do it, and the cycle continues.
Understanding the cognitive triangle can be helpful for improving productivity. It gives us a framework to change our behaviors by being more attentive to our thoughts.
But how? How can I change my thoughts? Don’t they just…happen?
Yes. Thoughts happen. Our brain’s job is to think. It thinks about what we are doing for lunch. It thinks about the last time we went to the beach. It thinks about the fuzz we found in our bellybutton that morning (When did I last wear something blue?).
Positive and negative thoughts are a natural part of human experience. It is our brain doing its thing.
Mindfulness practices are focused on noticing our thoughts. Not necessarily stopping or changing them but noticing them.
Once you successfully notice a thought (Woo-hoo, I see a thought!), then you can activate CBT techniques. If the thought is negative, you can challenge that thought.
For example, you may notice the thought, “I’ll never be able to finish this project on time!”
Here are some ways to challenge an unproductive thought:
- Ask, “Is that 100% true?” I don’t know about you, but my brain is a dirty rotten liar sometimes. Brain, you better be prepared to back that thought up with evidence!
- Consider how you have performed similar tasks in the past. If you found a way before, you likely can do it again.
- Thank your brain for the dire warning but tell it you are going to get to work. Literally say, “Thank you for doing your job, brain, you are so wonderful. But, this is a challenge that I can break down into smaller steps and work through.”
Noticing your thoughts, challenging them when appropriate, and thanking your prodigious brain for doing the job it was made to do not only develops your Executive Function skills, but also helps you flourish.
So, next time you hear a coworker muttering words of gratitude to her brain, don’t judge. Just put on your best When Harry Met Sally face and tell your own brain, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.