Mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy

Mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy

Summary

The following is a practical guide for increasing self-belief, building resilience, handling stress, developing greater self-awareness, and building new healthy behaviours at home and work.

This tool has been created based on a 12-minute video about resilience and thinking traps (resilience video). Watch the video and pause it at the stages noted below to make the most of this guide. After each pause, read the notes, reflect on the tools discussed and make a note of the actions you will take.

This guide includes a link to the resilience video and links to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy research and explanatory style (our core beliefs).

What is mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy (MBCT)?

MBCT is a series of techniques and tools to help people become more aware of their thoughts, behaviours and core beliefs – followed by techniques to gently challenge negative, harmful or destructive thoughts and beliefs with more expansive, realistic and positive ones.

MBCT Research – why is it useful?

Research points to significant improvements in mental wellbeing. For example, in one German study, the relapse into depression was reduced by 50% for people taking part in an MBCT program.

Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, et al., ”Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression (New York 2003)

And in a 6-month study, 300 people with severe depression took part in an MBCT course with two active control groups (one conventional psychiatric treatment, the other just learning about cognitive behaviour therapy). Again, MBCT was more effective than conventional treatments.

J. Mark Williams et al., “Mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy for preventing relapse in recurrent depression: A randomised dismantling trial,” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 82:2 (2014): 275-86

MBCT and becoming a better student and colleague at work

But learning MBCT techniques is not just about learning tools to help with mental wellbeing. Learning about thinking traps and our emotional triggers and becoming more emotionally agile helps us study better, collaborate with colleagues better and become more intentional leaders (less reactive and more proactive).

Resilience and MBCT video

To make the most of this program, make a note to pause the video at the following points, and then read the notes below  before resuming watching. The link to the video is below. 

Use a journal to record where to pause the video, and take some time recording your observations as you consider the content.

Building equanimity and balance (0 to 3.30 minutes in the video)

Creating space between the activating event and your response (3.30 to 6.30 in the video)

Explanatory style – (6.30 to 8.30 in the video)

Self-soothing (8.30 – 10 minutes)

Summing things up (10 to 12.30 minutes)

https://vimeo.com/157306562

Building equanimity and balance (0 to 3.30 minutes in the video)

Initially, the video explores how to observe events and adopt a curious, wait-and-see approach to life. When we define an event as good or bad, we become emotionally entangled in outcomes. We may overly project into the future, trying to hold onto the good feeling we are experiencing. Or we might lament our setback and overly personalise the experience – “why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this”.

Mindfulness techniques in this section include remaining in your breath and the sensations you feel. 

An event has just happened – how are you experiencing this in your body? Is it a pleasant or unpleasant experience? When we experience an unpleasant experience, our body and mind may try to push back or flee from it – fight or flight. This is your body’s physical response to a situation. By remaining present, doing some deep breaths and taking a moment to slow down, you naturally engage the parasympathetic rest and rest and restore response. And in that moment of awareness, you are better placed to choose your response and stay mindful not to become emotionally entangled in the event.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. 

In that space is our power to choose our response. 

In our response lies our growth and our freedom” 

Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for meaning)

 

Creating space between the activating event and your response (3.30 to 6.30 in the video)

This section explored learning your ABCs:

A – Activating event – what happened? How can you view what happened without an overlay of emotional interpretation? Stick to the facts as you see them, but be open to the opinions of others – you may have got the wrong end of the stick.

B – Beliefs – what are your underlying beliefs and thoughts which shape your emotional and behavioural response to the activating event? There is a list of belief labels at the end of this article

C – Consequences – what emotions are you experiencing? What behaviours were driven by the sequence of activating event, beliefs and consequences?

ABCs happen very fast. When people react in a habitual way to a stressor, we jump straight from A to C without understanding how our beliefs connect the two. 

Mindfulness techniques help us pause and unpick this chain for a few seconds. The techniques also help us self-soothe and feel more relaxed. 

In that space of pause, we can reduce activation in the limbic region. This region has heightened activity when we feel emotionally triggered. One of the functions of this arousal is to help us take swift action – such as bracing ourselves for an attack, defending ourselves in an argument, preparing ourselves to run away etc. In arousal, we are more likely to be reactive, focus on the immediate threat, have poor self-awareness and act without consciously being aware of why we are reacting that way.

To raise awareness of the links between your A, B and C response, practise the following:

Apply a mindful break – Get into the habit of noting activating events and self-soothing (such as breathing slowly) before reacting.

Journal your emotions – at the start and end of each day, take a few minutes to write down the feelings you are experiencing.

High energy adversity – Use the most prominent emotions you experience in the day to develop more self-awareness – when you feel anger, label the emotion, “anger is here.”

List your emotional triggers – Prepare yourself for inevitable ups and downs – reflect on the moments you experience anger, fear, frustration etc. For example, it could be that a colleague speaks in a loud voice which you find intimidating – but on reflection, you may realise that their behaviours remind you of someone from your past and that you were creating an adverse emotional response through the prism of an old experience, which is no longer relevant.

Consider the thinking labels below – these may help you label and understand your thoughts and beliefs in a self-compassionate and curious way.

Explanatory style – (6.30 to 8.30 in the video)

Use mindfulness techniques to slow down and bring your attention to the ABC cycle.

Work backwards – use a simple body scanning technique to deepen your awareness of the physiological impact on your body. In this way, we can learn to build our interoception abilities (the self-knowledge of our body’s feelings). 

Get into the habit of bringing your attention down to your body. Is your heart racing? Does your abdomen or chest feel heavy? Are your shoulders tight? And then apply a mindful breath or other self-soothing tools to the experience. Note what’s going on, “chest heavy”, “anxiety is here”, etc.

Then explore your internal narrative response to an activating event in a self-compassionate way. Mindfulness training helps people become more aware of their inner world in a self-compassionate, non-judgmental way. The training is to notice the experience and move on to the next one.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is different. Whilst the noticing part of the experience is a vital first part of mindfulness training and CBT, CBT then actively provides tools to explore and reframe your experience.

For example, if your explanatory style is self-critical about your achievements, CBT might encourage you to counter your self-belief with evidence of your successes. 

The first step is to notice your explanatory style following an activating event:

Blaming self or blaming others – Do you overly blame yourself when experiencing setbacks or tend to blame everyone else – or do you have a more balanced perspective, taking ownership for your failures and celebrating when you succeed?

Always vs one-time event – “this always happens to me”, “things will never get better”, “ok, that was a one off” or “I can see how there are ups and downs every day in life.”

Notice the pairings between belief and emotional response. Keep a journal of these things.

Self-soothing (8.30 – 10 minutes)

As you notice and label the sensations you are experiencing, use Kristen Neff’s self-compassion approach:

A – Activating event 

– The belief/thought is often bypassed – we leap from event to emotion and response

– The emotional and behavioural consequence 

Focus on C and then work backwards. Try this self-compassion approach:

Lean in – to setbacks and some painful feelings 

Label it – name what you are experiencing 

Love it – use techniques to self-soothe

Listen to it – “wow, that’s interesting; I’m learning about my emotional triggers.”

Liken it to others – “anyone else experiencing this would feel similar things.”

Live with it – remember your resources, past achievements, friends, and strengths, and build positive self-talk, “you’ve got this.”

Learn from it – “that experience was tough; it reminded me of an old hurt, but I’ve met the feeling, befriended it and moved on. I don’t feel so triggered anymore.”

 

Summing things up (10 to 12.30 minutes)

  • Slow things down – with speed, it’s hard to find a space between A and C and, therefore, more challenging to develop a positive growth mindset and greater self-belief.
  • Be curious about your beliefs and self-talk – Adopt an attitude of “wow, that’s interesting – I wonder why I believe that.
  • COACH mindfulness to yourself – be curious, open, accepting, compassionate and humble. Humility means to adopt a “don’t know stance as you observe your thoughts, emotions and beliefs. Our parents, friends, ancestors, culture, environment, and luck shape us. Sometimes it’s hard to unravel the basis for our actions and beliefs. Mindfulness is a lifetime exploration and unpicking of our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. As you practice mindfulness, continue to bring a COACH mentality into your effort.
  • Resilient people are not always super positive – they accurately label emotions. However, they tend to be faster at recovering from setbacks. And we can learn to get better at this bounce-back by applying the techniques in this section.
  • Resilient people aren’t perfectionists – learn to say, “that’s good enough on this piece of work; I have other priorities”, “care less without being careless”, “strive for excellence but be mindful of the impact on your wellbeing, energy, energy levels and the impact on friends and colleagues.
  • Resilient people maintain a balanced perspective of the future – they’ve learnt about some of their triggers and are aware that some days the sun shines and others it rains.

 

Positive psychology resources

Link to positive psychology explainer about cognitive behaviour therapy 

Link to positive psychology explainer about mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy

Link to positive psychology research on explanatory style

 

Some thinking traps and cognitive Distortions

Black-and-white thinking

All-or-nothing thinking has no room for complexity, balance or nuance—everything’s black or white, never shades of grey.

If you don’t perform perfectly in one aspect of your job, you may see yourself as a failure instead of simply recognising that you may be unskilled in that one place.

Overgeneralisation

Overgeneralisation means taking a single incident and using it as the sole evidence for broader conclusions.

For example, someone who overgeneralises could fluff a job interview. Instead of brushing it off as one bad experience and trying again, they conclude they suck at interviews and shy away from going for jobs.4. Jumping to conclusions

Similar to overgeneralization, this distortion involves faulty reasoning in how one makes conclusions. Unlike overgeneralizing one incident, jumping to conclusions refers to the tendency to be sure of something without any evidence at all.

For example, we might be convinced that someone dislikes us without having any real evidence, or we might believe that our fears will come true before we have a chance to really find out.

Negative filtering bias

Filtering refers to how a person can ignore all the positive things in life to focus solely on the negative. It’s the trap of concentrating on a single negative aspect of a situation, even when surrounded by many good things.

Personalisation

Personalisation is where an individual believes that everything they do impacts external events or other people, no matter how irrational that may be. 

Someone with this distortion will feel they have an outsized role in the bad things around them.

For example, a person may believe that arriving a few minutes late to a meeting led to it being derailed and that everything would have been fine if they were on time.

Catastrophising events

This distortion involves expecting that the worst will happen or has happened based on an innocuous incident that could have been expected. 

For example, you may make a small mistake at work and become convinced that it will ruin a project with colleagues, that your boss will be mad, and that you’ll lose your job.

Or, one might minimise the importance of positive things, such as a promotion at work or a compliment. “It was nothing”.

Being in control distortion

Feeling like everything that happens to you is either a result of purely external forces or entirely due to your actions. 

Sometimes what happens to us is due to forces we can’t control, and sometimes, it’s due to our actions, but the distortion assumes that it is always one or the other.

With this distortion, we may assume that difficult co-workers are to blame for our poor performance at work or that every mistake another person makes is because of something we did.

Blaming bias – blaming others or blaming ourselves

When things don’t go our way, we can explain or assign responsibility for the outcome in many ways – blaming others for what goes wrong or overly blaming ourselves. Slowing down helps us reflect on healthy boundaries and maintain balance.

Should statements

“Shoulds” refer to the implicit or explicit rules about how we and others should behave. 

When others break our rules, we are upset. When we break our own rules, we feel guilty. 

Using the word should is often a fixed mindset response to an event which requires agility. So watch out when you use the word “should”, commenting on your actions and the behaviours of others.

Emotional reasoning

“If we feel a certain way, it must be true.”

For example, if we feel unattractive or boring in the current moment, we think we are unattractive or uninteresting. 

“I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Our emotions are not always accurate – they are points of data and not directives. 

 

 

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