IWP CQC Self-Affirming Practice

The brain instinctively goes into “autopilot” when faced with emotional turmoil, trauma, pain, fear or anxiety. As a result, our sympathetic nervous system is activated to engage our fight-or-flight stress-response. Cortisol and adrenaline flood the brain to ensure our involuntary bodily functions kick into high gear to get us out of danger. Although this natural stress-response can save our lives when faced with immediate danger, it can also impair our health, and trigger self-defeating behaviors, repetitive thought-patterns and problematic emotional habits—if we are not facing immediate and present dangers

When we experience stressful, challenging or painful situations, and the brain and nervous system struggles to differentiate between adversity and immediate danger, our habitual ways of thinking trigger familiar emotional reactions and conditioned behaviors. Here are a few common examples of how adversity triggers the habituation cycle—cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. 

If we are already prone to thinking that we are the victims in life when adversity strikes, our thoughts will twist around a narrative that subconsciously supports helpless feelings followed by inaction or a lack of responsibility or control. If we are prone to denial in times of grief, our thoughts will subconsciously create rationalizations to repress our feelings supporting a naive and uncaring attitude. Moreover, catasphrophic thinking leads to anxiety and nervous behaviors; critical thinking leads to depression and paralysis or projection; and, extreme or rigid thinking leads to dramatic and cold attitudes and reactions. In other words, we often find ourselves running down familiar and frustrating rabbit holes unaware of how our habituated thinking is reinforcing the same feelings of despair, panic, helplessness, depression or hopelessness.

If we can learn to accept with non-judgment that our conditioned thought-patterns will resurface during times of adversity, we can become more aware and equipped to cope with them and the emotional and behavioral patterns that follow. Once we better understand our habitual ways of thinking, we can start to reframe or turn down the volume on our instinctive thoughts. Reframing, neutralizing and directing our thoughts becomes the key to a more rational and balanced perspective and to cultivating more equanimity in mood and behavior. And this all starts by asking questions and learning to affirm and direct ourselves. 

When reactive thoughts or rigid beliefs instinctively appear during times of difficulty, we can learn to break free from cognitive patterns by bringing our curiosity, questions and a contemplative mindset to the moment—CQC™. And, we can use self-affirmation and self-direction to replace unhelpful habitual thoughts with more responsive, neutral, rational and healthy ways of thinking, feeling and acting.

This exercise will help with cognitive functioning, mood stabilization and behavioral habits that get triggered during times of adversity. Be patient as you practice CQC.™ Habits are hard to break. The goal is to gain more awareness of habituated thoughts and to let that awareness and the practices support a more stable mood and calmer actions in times of future challenges.   

When triggered by adversity, say to yourself silently or out loud:

  • Let me pause, get curious, reflect and be open to other perspectives now. 

Question yourself:

  • Are these thoughts familiar to me? 

If yes, identify the thoughts and label them: 

  • These are my habitual thoughts and beliefs.
  • These are my critical, judgement, catastrophic, fearful thoughts, etc.    

Next, ask yourself the following questions and answer them:

  • What are the implications of my habitual thoughts?  
  • How are these thoughts helpful and useful to me now?  
  • Is it true that the worst case scenario is happening and what evidence do I have today to prove this? 
  • Are there any alternative scenarios that I can think of? 
  • What’s the best case scenario? 
  • What’s a neutral scenario? 
  • What observations am I aware of as I examine alternative thoughts? 

Next, use self-directing feedback to gain even more perspective. 

  • What else could I be focusing my thoughts on that could assist me now?  
  • What control do I have at this moment?
  • How do I feel powerful and strong today?
  • What in my life feels predictable, steady and familiar now?  
  • How is my mind and body working well today? 

Finally, use self-affirmation to cultivate calmness of mind, energy, and body. Repeat the following: 

  • I am safe.
  • I am secure.
  • I am healthy. 
  • I have close connections and strong relationships.
  • I am passionate, purposeful and principled. 
  • I have abundance in all areas of my life.   

©Ryan Lewis Counseling / Integrative Wellness PLLC 2019 

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