CBT Improves Memory And Concentration. Those of you who have studied any psychology might recognize this as a form of ‘cognitive restructuring’.
Cognitive restructuring is a technique from CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT meanwhile is a psycho therapeutic technique used to treat a range of conditions ranging from social anxiety, to phobias, to OCD.
Essentially, CBT works in two stages:
1. Identifying the negative thoughts that are leading to stress/maladaptive behavior (mindfulness, thought reporting)
2. Changing those thought processes using a range of techniques (cognitive restructuring).
So if you were afraid of speaking in public for instance, you would first use mindfulness meditation (listening to your own thoughts) and thought reporting (writing a journal of what you think just before speaking) and then see what negative thoughts were causing that anxiety. It might be that you find yourself thinking things like ‘what if everyone laughs at me?’ or ‘I might stutter’ which of course is what then causes you to freeze and to perform badly.
Thus you use two tools called ‘thought challenging’ and ‘hypothesis testing’. Thought challenging means that you challenge your beliefs and break them down to see if they’re accurate. Are people really likely to laugh at you? Or will they be more likely to be sympathetic and polite and continue listening? Likewise, does it really matter if you stutter? Ultimately, you’ll never see these people again and you never claimed to be an amazing speaker? Who cares!
This should hopefully help you to relax and thus avoid the stressful ‘fight or flight response’. At the same time, you can also use hypothesis testing to actually test the theory. This might mean standing up to speak in front of a crowd and then purposefully stuttering. It’s terrifying, but very quickly you’ll learn that it really doesn’t matter what happens – people are kind and you’ll survive!
But CBT can also be used in the reverse manner. You can also use cognitive restructuring to tell yourself that something is important and to focus on the reason it really matters. Repeat this like a mantra – I need to keep working on this, if I work now I can rest later, this work will help me achieve my goals. Focus on the emotions that drive you to keep going and put aside any negative thoughts like ‘five minutes on Facebook won’t hurt’. We all know that five minutes is never five minutes.
As soon as you start using these techniques, you can actually start to lead your brain state and force yourself to focus on the things that matter. When you do this, you will come to believe that what you’re doing is very important and as such, your brain will respond in kind by producing the necessary neurotransmitters to keep you engaged and alert. Other things – like Candy Crush – won’t seem as important and thus they won’t be able to distract you.
It’s Your Perception That Counts
What CBT really teaches us is that it’s our perception of a situation that really counts as far as the brain is concerned. It doesn’t actually matter what we’re doing or how important that is. What matters is how important we think it is.
Let’s put it this way: if you were standing on top of a volcano as it erupted, this would cause you a lot of panic and your brain would react by producing tons of norepinephrine and epinephrine.
This would trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response and your heartrate would increase, your focus would narrow and you’d feel highly stressed and scared. Did the volcano cause this? No: your belief that you were about to be incinerated did. If you were in the exact same position but you genuinely believed that you were invincible, then you wouldn’t have the same fight or flight response.
Change Your Perception
You’d be able to stand back and just relax while the lava erupted around you. Of course you’d also die, but your neurochemical profile would be completely different. If you can change your perception of events, then you can control the release of neurotransmitters, you can control the activation of brain areas and you can make sure you’re in the perfect state of mind for whatever task awaits you.
You can be more present and in the moment when you’re with friends, more focused when you’re working and more relaxed when you’re thinking creatively and engaging your ‘default mode network’. If you perceive something as important, then you will believe it is important and your body will react accordingly.