Building Resiliency: Lessons from the Strong Resiliency program – Part 3

Posted on 05/07/11 by erynwicker

From a series I wrote for The Chilliwack Progress some time ago…

Week 3 of the Strong Resiliency Groups: Clear Thinking

So, if all of my Strong Readers of the Chilliwack Progress have been reading and following along we should have mastered empathy and anger management by now. We are looking for visual cues and attempting to understand the emotional states of those in our lives, and we are recognizing the steps of the anger model and interjecting when appropriate with counting or self-talk. Of course, that’s the shoulds. And in actuality, the shoulds, woulds, and coulds are a type of distorted thinking because they are not always rational or logical or plausible.

Which brings us to today’s lesson plan from the Strong Resiliency Groups: Clear Thinking. The purpose of a lesson on clear thinking (the curriculum has it divided into two lesson plans over two weeks) is to help develop an awareness of how emotions change and work, learn how to identify negative thought patterns, and provide individuals with skills for refuting those negative thought patterns.


After this lesson is done my hope is that individuals will have increased awareness of their range of emotions, learn that identifying negative thought patterns can help create a healthy lifestyle, learn to identify common thought errors, increase their skills designed to refute these errors, provide skills to discriminate harmful and pervasive thought patterns from acceptable ones, and to be able to apply this knowledge to real problems in their lives. Now, I’m aware that this sounds like a lofty goal, hence the two weeks to accomplish it in the group, but I feel confident that those reading are up for the challenge.

The first step in having clear thinking is to understand that sometimes when our emotions reach certain strength or intensity we can make an error in the way we think about a situation. Oftentimes, negative self talk accompanies these intense emotions, and only by identifying the negative thoughts can we determine if an error was made about the way we perceive a situation. The Strong Resiliency curriculum highlights five of the most common thought errors that individuals make. These thought errors can also be referred to as cognitive distortions, and in actuality there are more like 17, but you can understand why they would want to narrow the focus. In fact, the lesson plan for this topic uses a great one page handout with pictures to help individuals relate to and remember the thought errors more easily – and I must admit that since coming across it I use it for almost all of my adult clients in private practice as well because it makes the learning so much more accessible than trying to memorize 17 errors or having a 6 page handout.

Binocular Visionlooking at tings in a way that makes them see bigger or smaller than they really are. Could also be referred to as catastrophizing and minimizing. Example: You are having friends over for dinner, and one dish doesn’t turn out the way you hoped so now you think the entire dinner is ruined. Visual Reminder: A pair of binoculars.


Black-and-White Thinkinglooking at things in only extreme or opposite ways, such as good or bad, never or always, all or none. Example: If my partner wants to break up with me it must be because I am a bad person and they hate me, and there is no other explanation. Visual Reminder: A rectangle half coloured white, half coloured black.


Dark Glasses Thinking only about the negative parts of things. Example: Your boss mentioned what a good job you were doing at work today, and as you were leaving he mentioned that you could brush up on your typing skills at home. You leave feeling very upset about your performance at work. Visual Reminder: A pair of sunglasses.


Fortune-telling Making predictions about what will happen in the future without enough evidence. Example: Mary’s teacher suggested that she run for class president, but she decides not to run because she knows that no one will vote for her. Visual Reminder: A fortune cookie.


Making it Personal – Blaming yourself for things that are not your fault. Example: Rick’s parents are getting a divorce. He thinks that it is his entire fault because he has been getting into trouble lately. Visual Reminder: A goat looking in the mirror.

It’s natural that we would all have some negative thoughts, especially if they are normal reactions to truly bad situations. It’s also these same negative thoughts that help us make decisions about our safety and life choices. For example, I may have negative thoughts about climbing a mountain, and if I looked for evidence about my negative thought I might find real substantive evidence, such as I don’t have any equipment, the weather is bad, and I could fall. This ‘looking for evidence’ is one part in the 4-step process of clear thinking.

Step 1: Recognize and identify the negative thoughts (often the tape recorder messages that play over in our heads)

Step 2: Make a decision regarding the validity of the thought. Ask yourself, “What is the evidence for this thought and what is the evidence against this thought being true?”

Step 3: Decide whether the thought is based on real evidence or a thought error/cognitive distortion.

Step 4: Replace the thought with a more realistic reasonable one by reframing or refuting it.


Reframing involves changing the negative thought around. Imagine a family picture with a scratched and bent frame around it – that could be the negative thought, and the picture doesn’t look too good because you really can’t see the people in it because the frame is distracting. Now reframe that family picture with a new, shiny frame and it looks entirely different. Same picture, but you can see the people clearly, and you now have a different perspective. Reframing helps dispel our negative our negative thoughts into positive and reasonable ones. Some examples of reframing at work might look like this:

Everything at home is bad – the thought error is Dark Glasses, and a reframe would be: Some things at home seem bad now, but there are also some alright things as well.

I’m never going to find a new job – the thought errors are Fortune-telling and black-and-white thinking, and a reframe would be: I don’t have a new job yet, but I haven’t considered all of my options, and I still have several weeks left to find one.

It’s awful that I fight so much with my partner – the thought error would be Binocular Vision, and a reframe would be: It’s true that we are going through a rough spot right now but we’ve worked hard to get to a better place before and can do so again.    

Negative thoughts happen to everyone at some time, but it’s up to us think about our negative thoughts in order to decide whether we should try to change them, rather than be powerless to them. If we notice our emotions running high, and our negative thoughts spilling over as well, it might be a good time to start reframing and refuting these thoughts in order to regain control of our emotions. It’s also important to note that not all negative thoughts can be changed or reframed – sometimes negative, yet true thoughts from situations or experiences come into our lives. In this case, even though it’s hard, it’s important to try and find something positive to focus on. Not that this makes everything better, but perspective is a key element to clear thinking.