Want to experience positive thoughts and end the negative ones?
CBT and MBCBT will help.
As a meditation teacher, I am always on the lookout for alternative, complimentary ways to train the mind.
I believe the mind is the most important tool we have. I believe a healthy, happy mind will produce a positive lifestyle, and a negative, unhappy mind will produce the opposite.
That’s why I train my mind like an athlete trains their body, spending hours every day doing exercises to keep my mind in top condition.
Take a look at my guide to 31 meditation techniques. It’s full of many fantastic techniques for stopping anxiety, depression, and negative thinking.
CBT exercises offer an alternative to meditation, and can be used with meditation as well.
What is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)? And what benefits does it offer?
CBT stands for “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”. It’s a series of psychological techniques designed to correct unhealthy thinking.
“CBT is a type of talking treatment that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems.”
Negative experiences lead to negative and harmful thoughts that become negative beliefs.
Think about that.
Think about the poor kid who is constantly told he’s stupid. He hears it so much that he starts to think it of himself. Anytime he does something wrong he says, “I’m so dumb”. This poor kid soon believe that he really is dumb. He identifies as a dumb person. It becomes a belief. He believes is so much he starts to look for ways in which he’s stupid, to prove his belief. His brain is now searching for negatives, so everything he focuses on is negative and, lo and behold, life turns out bad.
It’s a story that happens far too often. It’s a situation we need to change, so that kid who is told by his abusive parents or his school bullies that he’s stupid doesn’t actually grow up to believe it.
We need to change that’s poor kid’s harmful thoughts. And out own.
How do we do that?
Well, a similar situation happened to me when I was young, and I used meditation and CBT to turn it around.
When I was a kid I was out of shape and was bullied badly for it, called fatso and lazy. I heard those words so much I began to think them. And the thoughts soon became a belief. Believing I was fat and lazy I then lived the life of a fat and lazy person, never exercising, eating unhealthily, and wasting time playing games and watching TV. This continued until I went to university. At uni, I challenged my thoughts. Every time I thought I was fat and lazy I would immediately tell myself otherwise, and I would hit the gym to prove that those negative, harmful thoughts were wrong. That’s one way CBT and meditation have changed me.
And that’s what CBT is about: changing harmful thoughts and beliefs.
CBT is a way of changing unhealthy and harmful thoughts. It usually (and preferably) involves a professional therapist. That said, it is definitely possible to perform cognitive behavioral exercises by ourselves too.
Let’s take a look at some of the best CBT exercises.
Try These 12 CBT Exercises
One of the most fundamental CBT exercises is to write a journal of moods and thoughts. When we do this, we are looking for patterns in our moods and thoughts. Once we notice a pattern we can take steps to change it.
- Challenging thoughts
One of the main goals of cognitive behavioral therapy is to find and change negative and inaccurate thoughts. In particular, we look for automatic thoughts (thoughts that occur without intention) and repetitive thoughts. When we find these, we challenge them. The poor kid who thinks he is stupid just because he isn’t getting straight A’s, for instance, can find the counterargument, find ways he actually is intelligent, and start to erase the negative thoughts.
- Changing behavior:
This CBT exercise is used mostly for OCD. For this exercise, we intentionally expose ourselves to situations in which we respond in negative or repetitive ways. We then intentionally recreate the event and try to act in a different way.
- Introspective exposure
This is a CBT exercise for panic attacks and anxiety. For this exercise, we intentionally recreate bodily sensations that we normally respond badly to. We then deliberately react in new, different, and healthier ways. This trains the mind to stop reacting to the sensation with panic and anxiety.
- Following fear to the end
Most of the time when we feel fear we immediately stop the thoughts. For instance, if we fear the dentist the moment we think of the dentist we force the thought aside. In this CBT exercise, we actually allow the fear to continue to the end. We see ourselves going to the dentist, getting that painful work done, and then carrying on with life. This trains us to realise that even if the worst happens things will probably not end up that bad.
- Changing behavior experiment
This CBT exercise is a way to test how different thoughts and beliefs lead to different actions. For instance, if we believe that being hard on ourselves makes us work harder we experiment with the opposite. We try being nice to ourselves and seei whether it creates a better result. This is an opportunity to change our behavior and see the results.
- A different perspective
This CBT exercise is basically thinking the other way. For an example, let’s go back to our unfortunate kid at school who’s being bullied and flunking exams. He starts to think he’s a failure. What can he do? He can write all the evidence that he is a failure. And then he can write all the evidence that he is a success. This gives our kid a better perspective. He now is aware of his shortcomings, but he’s also aware of his strengths too.
- Looking for positives
This is a very simple technique in which we look for positives. What positives? Well, we can intentionally schedule positive events in the future to look forward to. We can look at the positives from the past. Or we can look for positives in the present moment, focusing on all the good things happening right now. In fact, we should probably do all three of those things. This is a simple way to start thinking positively.
- Facing fears
For this CBT technique, we write a list of our fears or of negative things we are worried about. We then list those events from best to worst. Finally, we go through each event, starting with the easiest and working towards the hardest. This builds our tolerance for unpleasant experiences and trains the mind to overcome fear.
- Turning negative to positive
For this technique, we simply write a positive version of every negative thought. “I’m ugly” we think, so we write “I’m beautiful”.
- Oh, I forgot about that…
In this technique, we simply remember all the positive things that happened in the past day.
- I hate that, but I love that
This final technique is about turning negatives to positives. When we think about a negative situation, or when we are actually in a negative situation, we immediately find things about the situation that we like. This trains the mind to stop dwelling on the negative and to see the positives instead.
If you’re interested in learning more about these techniques, I recommend reading Positive Psychology Program’s guide.
So that’s CBT. How about MBCBT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)?
MBCBT takes things further by combining CBT and meditation
We’ve looked at 12 great cognitive behavioral therapy exercises. Now let’s take things further by introducing meditation.
Mixing CBT exercises and meditation makes for a powerful combo.
Meditation slows the mind so we can see what is happening in our thoughts. CBT exercises let us change those harmful thoughts. It’s easy to see why meditation and CBT make for such a good combo.
Cognitive psychologist Dr. Zindel Segal has written an indispensable guide to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s called The Mindful Way. Take a look.
Dr. Segal says, “[Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] combines the ideas of cognitive therapy with meditative practices… The heart of this work lies in becoming acquainted with the modes of mind that often characterize mood disorders while simultaneously learning to develop a new relationship to them”.
So MBCBT is about studying the mind so we can take control of it.
Combining CBT exercises and meditation just makes good sense. That’s why I’ve been researching CBT exercises and ways to integrate them into my twenty-years experience in meditation.
What Is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is precisely what it sounds: combining mindfulness practices with CBT exercises.
The mindfulness aspect is based on Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness based stress reduction (Source: GoodTherapy.org).
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction uses:
Let’s take a look at some of the best Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercises.
Try These MBCBT Techniques. They Combine Meditation And CBT Exercises
13. Three Minute Breathing Space
One of the main MBCBT exercises is “Three Minute Breathing Space”. It’s basically a quick mindfulness-of-breath exercise.
Zindel Segal calls the Three Minute Breathing a “a practice for approaching experience from two attentional lenses, both narrow and wide”. (source: Mindful).
It’s broken into three minutes:
- For the first minute we observe how we are feeling, and describe those feelings in words.
- For the second minute we practice awareness of breath.
- For the third minute we continue focusing on the breath but extend awareness to the whole body.
This technique is basically a quick version of one of the most important Buddhist techniques: Anapansati.
14. Body Scan
Body scan meditations are a very popular technique. There are many guided body scan meditations on Youtube and on meditation apps like Insight Timer.
The video below is Jon Kabat Zinn’s guided body scan meditation.
As the video says, the body scan meditation is a way of passing focus around the body.
Read my full guide to body scan meditation for more on this. It’s a great way of increasing happiness and reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
15. Mindful Stretching
Mindful stretching is precisely as it sounds: stretching while focusing on the body.
The different types of mindful stretching include:
- Pandiculation: A ridiculously complex name that basically refers to the type of stretches we do when we yawn (palms on shoulders, elbows raised, mouth open).
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: This is the type of stretch given to a football player who has cramp in their legs.
- Gomukhasana (cow-face pose): In cow-face pose we sit with crossed legs and interlock the hands behind the back in a way that expands the chest. Learn this pose in Yoga Journal’s guide.
- Side-to-side neck stretch: This is a very simple pose in which we use one hand to pull the head to the side.
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One Legged King Pigeon Pose): In this position, we have the hips to the mat with one leg in front, perpendicular to the mat, and the other legs stretched out straight behind us. This is a more complex pose that beginners may struggle with. For a guide to this pose, take a look at YogaOutlet’s guide.
- The Scorpion: This is a modified version of Vrischikasana (Scorpion Pose). To do the pose we lie flat on the front with the arms out to the side. We then lift the right foot high up and press the right hip out. Next, we stretch the right foot to the outside of the left leg. It’s important to keep the chest and the arms on the flow while doing this.
Besant Prashan has created an excellent guide to MBCBT Yoga, it explains how to combine mindfulness and yoga to heal body and mind. It’s called Yoga And Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. It’s available on Amazon.
More Mindful Activities
As well as the practices above, MBCBT recommends doing everyday activities in a mindful way.
- Mindfully clean the dishes
- Eat mindfully
- Mindfully brush your teeth
- Shower mindfully
Take a look at these mindful habits for some great ways to introduce mindfulness to everyday activities.
It is worth noting that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is virtually identical to plain old mindfulness. There really is very little difference between the above techniques and traditional mindfulness. So if you practice mindfulness, you are already doing MBCBT.
CBT and MBCBT are excellent ways of stopping negative, harmful thoughts and boosting positivity. And they’re made even better by introducing meditation.
Which of the techniques have you tried, and how did it help you?
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