- Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Change Your Thought Patterns

Now you've gotten all that through your head, you'll hopefully have started coming up with your plan of action. This is what will make the path to your success (as in the way that you define success) easiest. By following that plan you should minimize the time and effort you invest, the amount of risk involved and your chances of failure.

You also know at this point that you now need to believe in that plan and yourself and make your own luck if you're going to succeed. This is what makes the difference between those entrepreneurial types and those 'over achievers' versus everyone else.
That's the second piece of the puzzle but it might also be the stumbling block for many people. How do you go about breaking out of your current thought patterns and adopting the thinking of those people who are highly successful?

Unfortunately if you're just as pessimistic as everyone else and if your ambitions have typically been modest and 'realistic' (what a despicable word) then you will have been 'practicing' and thus reinforcing negative thought patterns your whole life. It's thus going to take some real effort to break out of those and to start thinking in a more positive and success-oriented manner.
This is where CBT comes in.

What is CBT?
CBT stands for 'Cognitive Behavioral Therapy'. This is a psycho-therapeutic technique used by therapists and psychologists to treat all kinds of mental health problems – and phobias, anxieties and stress in particular.

What's interesting about CBT is that it's also a technique you can use on your own. One of the reasons it has become so popular with the NHS in the UK, is that it doesn't require anyone to be physically present. Other forms of therapy like psychotherapy require lengthy sessions lasting hours multiple times a week. CBT on the other hand can be conducted via e-mail and actually has much more evidence in support of its effectiveness as well.

The general idea behind CBT then is to give patients the tools they need to reprogram their thoughts and to change the way they think. Therapists use this to teach people how to get rid of phobias or OCD – but we can use it as well to try and model our brains after those of the most successful people. And also just to make sure that we are sticking to our goals and objectives.

How it Works
To do CBT you first have to identify the contents of your thoughts. From there, you then have to assess them as being constructive or maladaptive and then replace them/eliminate them where necessary. You can then also use various different exercises and strategies in order to cement these positive effects.

Two important stages in this process are mindfulness and cognitive restructuring.

In mindfulness, you will essentially be listening to your own thoughts and assessing them. This is a form of meditation but unlike transcendental meditation where you are trying to quieten your thoughts and block them out, here you are simply becoming an observer of your own brain and identifying the thoughts you have as they pass by.

Mindfulness can be practiced as an intentional form of meditation where you are actively listening to your thoughts. At the same time though, it can also be used in a more casual manner or a more passive manner. For instance, it might mean simply thinking back to the last time you were in a certain position and asking yourself now what was on your mind at that time. Likewise, it might mean simply being partly aware of your own thoughts in any given situation. Just make sure that you are monitoring your thoughts one way or another.

If you had a phobia of heights, you would then use mindfulness in order to identify the thoughts that caused this fear which might include things like 'I'm going to fall' or 'I want to jump'. These of course only cause you to get worse when really you should be thinking positive affirmations like 'I'm in complete control' or 'the railings will stop me from falling'. In the case of fulfilling your goals and thinking like a more successful person, you'll need to identify the negative self-talk and replace that with statements about why you can't fail.

Cognitive Restructuring
Cognitive restructuring is the term used for the second part of the process whereby you change the thoughts you've identified as problematic. There are furthermore two ways you might go about this called thought challenging and hypothesis testing.

Thought Challenging
Thought challenging essentially means that you are asking yourself just how realistic your current concerns are. So for instance, if you find yourself thinking 'I'm going to end up on the streets' you might challenge that thought simply by assessing how realistic it really is.
Are you really likely to end up on the street? Or is it the case that you would probably be offered support by your partner, your Mum or your sister? How long would it realistically take you to completely run out of funds? In that time, wouldn't you be able to get another job – possibly better than the one you had before? At the very least, wouldn't you be able to get a part time job in a supermarket? Move somewhere cheaper to live? Rent a room in a shared house?
9/10 of our fears really aren't that realistic and aren't founded on much. Challenge their logic and you might find that you have nothing to worry about.

Hypothesis Testing
Hypothesis testing is the process of actually testing those illogical thoughts. So say you're afraid of approaching women or men in bars, you might use thought challenging and tell yourself that it's actually very rare that anyone should make a scene and even if they did it probably wouldn't be the end of the world – does it matter what strangers in a bar think?
Problem is though, you're probably not going to really believe that until you actually test it yourself. That means you need to try approaching people to test your fear that you're going to get shot down. What you'll find is that it doesn't happen, that you're fine and that you learn over time that there's nothing to be afraid of.

Hypothesis testing is absolutely great for anyone who has any kind of social anxiety – especially because it also serves as a form of 'training' for overcoming nerves. All you have to do is to pick the situation where failure really doesn't matter. Try going into a shop where you don't know anyone and where you never shop. Now, when you buy something, try putting on a stupid accent, stuttering and being generally weird and awkward. You'll find that before you approach the shop, your heart starts racing and that you feel completely pumped and anxious. This is normal.
But when you do it, you'll find the shop owner probably doesn't even comment on your odd behavior. They assume you have mental health problems, serve you and then let you go about your business.
What you learn in this process is that you can get away with a lot more weirdness and awkwardness than you realize and that people are actually just really polite. That then gives you free reign to be bold, to be daring, to be out there and to network. And as you practice you will get your fight or flight response under control such that it's not a problem anymore. If this seems a little scary at first, then try finding a buddy to do it with.

Fear Setting
'Fear setting' is a technique suggested by the one and only Tim Ferris in his book The Four Hour Workweek. Here he outlines a process that is essentially a form of CBT as applied to entrepreneurialism, business and self-development.
The idea is simply to clearly define your fears and to write them down on paper. Write down every single reason you have for talking yourself into not doing X and not doing Y. Now go through all those things and break each one down. Analyze how likely each of those things is to actually happen and then write down a contingency plan that outlines how you would deal with the problem if it were to occur. The objective here is to remove the 'power' from each of your fears so that you feel ready to completely execute your plan.

Some More Strategies
Some other good strategies you can use include those that revolve around priming yourself and removing bad habits that cause negative thoughts. Priming by the way simply means putting yourself into a state of mind where you can win. Here are a few CBT-esque techniques you could consider adopting:

Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations are positive statements you repeat to encourage yourself. The idea here is simply to make your positive thoughts become
the 'habit' instead of your negative ones. To help yourself remember these, try using post-it notes and putting them up around your house.

Power Positions
Simply standing in a victory stance (arms over your head) puts you in a state of 'win' and producing hormones associated with drive and success. Try it in the bathroom next time you're going to an interview.

Body language
Moreover, make sure you have your body language straight. This might mean just pointing your chest up at the ceiling and imagine a beam of light coming out of it and getting in the habit of doing this every time you step through a door. It completely changes the way you feel and makes a much better first impression.

You can also prime yourself directly by listening to motivating music or watching motivating films. Better yet, remind yourself every day of all the things you've done that you're proud of and all the times you've succeeded. This way you can set yourself into a state where you're feeling successful, proud and on top of the world and as we've discussed this will ensure that people automatically view you as being all those things to a greater extent.

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