Counter Pointing is a method of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. If you are familiar with Cognitive Behavioral Thereby (CBT) then you will recognize this way of thinking. It essentially is an exercise that asks you to look at your negative thoughts and justify them. This exercise asks the questions: Where is the evidence for your negative thinking? Are you “assuming” some facts? Are your negative assumptions 100% true 100% of the time?
For example if you are feeling fearful about flying then you are thinking negative thoughts (which you believe to be true) about the activity of flying. First you need to identify your exact thoughts.
Finish the following sentence: “When I think about flying I feel _____ because I think _____ may happen.”
Once you have identified the thoughts you can then start adjusting them slightly so that you are starting to feel better. It is not necessary to attempt to completely overcome your negative thoughts the first time you try this technique. What is important is that you gradually coax yourself into feeling better a little at a time.
Here are some replacement thoughts (counter points) as an example to overcome the fear of flying:
- There are thousands of flights every day that leave and arrive safety.
- I have flown before and nothing bad has happened.
- Turbulence on an Airplane is just like bumps on the road when I drive.
- I will enjoy having the time to read a book when I am in the airplane.
Another technique is one that Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (CBT) use. They call this “thought records”. Here is the process to deal with beliefs that are triggering anxiety, depression or feelings that are uncomfortable. You can do this exercise when you are in the moment of experiencing intense feelings or reflect afterwards on a particularly challenging incident:
- Begin by writing down how you are feeling at this very moment.
- What emotions are present. See if you can uncover all of them and not just the major ones.
- On a scale of 1 – 10 write down how intense or uncomfortable these feelings are.
- Now write down what beliefs are present about your present situation that is causing you to feel this way.
- It’s important that you are very honest about what your beliefs really are.
- Quite often our beliefs are rather strange so do not pretend these ODD beliefs are not present just because you are embarrassed by them.
- Now right down the evidence to support these beliefs.
- Make sure you state real evidence and not just potential evidence.
- Pretend you are talking to your best friend who is experiencing the same feelings. How would you help them identify the evidence to support their beliefs.
- Now right down the evidence that refutes your beliefs.
- Pretend you are talking to your best friend who is experiencing the same feelings. How would you help them identify the evidence to refute their beliefs.
- Now write down how you are feeling?
- What emotions are now present?
- On a scale of 1 – 10, write down how intense your feelings are now.
We almost always exaggerate our beliefs. We catastrophize our beliefs and this exercise allows us to learn how to realistically address our faulty thinking. By doing this exercise we can come to a place where our beliefs are more balanced and realistic and this balances our emotions and body sensations. Generally when you complete this exercise you will see a shift in how you feel.
Here is a PDF of a cheat sheet that you can use to help you out: Counter Point Exercise Sheet
Note: There is value in actually writing down your analysis on paper. It helps solidify the perspective.
The great thing about Counter Pointing is that it can be used while you are in the midst of an uncomfortable situation as well as the basis for your daily Optimistic self talk.
Use your counter points as Affirmations, mantras when you Meditate, points to write down in your Writing/Journaling exercises, points to use when you conduct your Mirror Exercises or points to use when you Counsel Yourself.
Remember that neuroscience tells us that what we focus on and pay attention to changes the structure and function of our brain. In other words doing exercises like this alters our neural pathways and these become more automatic over time. This concept is called neuroplasticity.
Come up with Counter Points on a regular basis. The results will amaze you.