Opdateret: 28. nov. 2018
Alright, let's be honest. We've all tried it. That horrible week with no exercise, bad food and low mood. Very often we blame the external factors; weather was horrible for that morning run. Work has been too busy for me to exercise or they didn't have those specific greens at the grocery store. But what about your own internal thought processes? Have you ever considered how they might affect your horrible week?
One of the greatest lessons that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches us is the power of cognition. I truly learned this lesson myself when I moved back to Denmark after living abroad in the beautiful country of Australia for almost two years. And I learned the lesson the hard way. I didn't feel happy for the first 6 months when first moving back. I felt like I didn't belong in the country where I grew up and had spend most of my life. I felt like I didn't belong despite having all my loving family and friends close by again. And, on top of this, I felt like I wasn't allowed to feel this way. I felt like I couldn't talk about it because I was supposed to be happy.
Now, 15 months after moving back home to Denmark, I've learned my lesson. A really important lesson that I'll keep with me for the rest of my life: I finally understand that it wasn't Australia that made me truly happy or Denmark that made me feel unhappy. It was my thought pattern and my actions that made the whole difference.
The cognitive diamond
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy based on "the cognitive diamond". A pretty simple model with a huge learning potentiel. This model teaches us that the way individuals perceive a situation is more closely related to their reaction than the situation itself. Therefore, one important part of CBT is helping people change their unhelpful thinking and behaviour that lead to enduring improvement in their mood and functioning.
"I finally understand that it wasn't Australia that made me truly happy or Denmark that made me feel unhappy. It was my thought pattern and my actions that made the whole difference".
Let me introduce you to some of the unhelpful thinking I had when moving back to Denmark. I would wake up every morning, look outside the window and tell myself: "I hate this cold weather. I just want to stay in bed". Every time I went to a cafe I would think to myself: "The coffee is so expensive here". Every Friday I would tell my friends: "I miss the beach and the salt water so much". Most days walking down the street in the city I would tell myself: "People are so ignorant and closed off". And every night before bedtime I would think: "If I could only do my morning walks like a did in Australia".
Now, let me introduce you to some of the helpful thinking I had when living in Australia. I would wake up every morning, look outside the window and tell myself: "What a beautiful day it is today". Every time I went to a cafe I would think to myself: "The coffee is so cheap and so good in this country". Every Friday I would tell my friends: "Let's go explore this weekend - drive somewhere and just get lost". Every day I would think: "I can't wait to meet some new interesting people in this beautiful country". And every night before bedtime I would ask friends or even just tell myself: "Let's go for a long morning walk tomorrow morning". Honestly, I feel almost embarrassed reading this. I perceive myself as a very positive and optimistic person and when reading those first thoughts, I don't recognise myself at all (also, I sound like a horrible person so maybe it's also the fact that I don't want to recognise myself). However, I need to share this because there's such a great learning potentiel in this experience. The essential thing here is that it was never the situation that created my happiness - or my unhappiness. It was my thoughts. It's always been my thoughts.
The free choice of being happy
When perceiving a situation we always have a choice: It's our choice how we decide to interpret that situation. And this is the beauty about our thought processes: Our thoughts affect our emotions, which activates a bodily reaction followed by an action. This means a negative thought can activate a negative emotion which in turn can activate a negative bodily reaction that'll lead to an action which will only confirm and intensify the original negative thought. I'll give you an example:
Let's say instead of being agitated about the fact that coffee is expensive in Denmark (sorry guys, but it's the honest truth), I would tell myself how lucky I am to even have the opportunity to go out for a coffee and I would remind myself about the wonderful time I got to spend with my friend at the cafe. Now, the emotional reaction from the two situations would be completely different. While the first situation would result in me being agitated and probably not go out for a coffee again in a very long time, the second situation would bring out a positive and happy feeling. It would allow me to appreciate the little things in life that have a very big importance - like going out for coffee with one of your valued friends.
"The essential thing here is that it was never the situation that created my happiness - or my unhappiness. It was my thoughts. It's always been my thoughts".
Being mindfully aware
Going out for a coffee with a friend might sound like a tiny thing. However, it can be of great importance. One negative thought quickly turns into a negative thought pattern that can cause a downward spiral into a depressed state. So how do we change it? We start by being mindfully aware. We can't change something if we're not aware of it's existence or it's consequences. Therefore, start to notice your thoughts and how they make you feel. Second step is changing our relationship with these thoughts and emotions. There's several ways to do this, some of them being cognitive restructuring through CBT and changing your relationship with your thoughts and emotions through mindfulness. Both activities rebalance your neural networks which allows you to move away from automatic negative responses toward an understanding that there're other and more functional ways to respond to situations.
So guys, let's choose happiness. Let's choose the thought pattern that creates a calm and balanced state. Book your session right here to know more about the strategies and tools for changing that negative thought pattern.