Achieve Your Goals by Countering Automatic Thoughts

Many people who have anxiety and depressions often feel hopeless about getting what they want in life. It’s not that they haven’t tried to achieve their goals. The problem is that what they have tried hasn’t worked as well as they would have liked, or at all. Over time they conclude it is not worth the continued effort. As a result, they feel they are off track in their lives, and this feeling fuels and maintains their anxiety and depression.  The more depressed they become, it seems like the less effective their efforts are. It can be a devastating cycle.

There is a technique from a form of CBT called Cognitive Behavioral Assessment System of Psychotherapy (CBASP), that is designed specifically for this kind of dilemma. It involves looking at your goal, and working backward to find out what has gotten in the way of you achieving your goal. This may sound like something that most people do automatically. However, what is different about this technique, is that it does not just require that you examine the actions you took to obtain your desired outcome, it also requires that you examine your interpretations about the situation as well. In other words, this model emphasizes that the way you think about your goal is just as important strategically as the actual steps you take in going after it.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to get a raise at work. You go into your boss’ office, highlight your achievements, ask for the increase, and… rejected. After several instances of this, you might feel it is hopeless and give up. You did all the right things, right? Well, your interpretations of the situation might have weakened your strategy. While you were talking to your boss, did you have thoughts like “I don’t really deserve a raise” or “I’m not worth it?” How about, “I know she’s just going to say no anyway.” If these are the thoughts running through your mind, how do you think they impacted your body language, or how assertively you went after the raise? How do you think these thoughts affected your commitment to the goal, i.e. your willingness to compromise? What about the impact of these thoughts on your nonverbal communication such as eye contact, posture, etc.? Or the other extreme may be the case: Did you go in thinking “I’ve worked here for so long they owe me a raise,” because how do you think this might come across?

Yes, our ineffective automatic thoughts can get in the way even when we have a solid strategy for getting what we want. In CBASP, the solution involves comparing your interpretations to your desired outcome, and deciding whether the interpretations moved you closer to your goal, or further from it. If the thoughts were obstacles to your objective, you need to tweak them so they become assets. What would you have to think to get what you wanted? Or, what would someone else who consistently achieves their goals think in this situation? By identifying a more helpful mindset, you allow your thoughts to work for you rather than against you. This technique is akin to cognitive restructuring on traditional CBT. And like cognitive restructuring, it is more difficult than people first assume, mainly because you actually have to believe the alternate perspective.  Click here for more information about cognitive restructuring in CBT.

So the next time you feel like your bulletproof strategy has fallen short, stop and consider whether you included your thoughts as part of your strategy. 


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