Summary Resilience Module 4: Flexible Thinking

Resilience 4: Flexible Thinking

This is a summary of the module Resilience 4: Flexible Thinking for your reference.

An important part of resilience is being able to adapt to different situations. This not only applies to situations, but also to our thinking. This module focuses on cognitive flexibility.

You’ve heard the expression “thinking outside the box” - i.e. you think in new or different ways. That is very much like cognitive flexibility. 

This skill can help you be more flexible in your thinking. It is common for people to avoid difficult situations. Flexibility in your thinking will help you perceive and respond to emotional situations in more effective ways. 

Being aware of your emotions is an important part of cognitive flexibility. Your thoughts influence your emotional experiences and your emotional experiences influence your thoughts. They are bi-directional.


Here’s an example of how this might work.

Take a few minutes to think about a time when your thoughts created a negative mood. Or, your negative mood also created negative thoughts? Write about the experience:______________________________________


Negative automatic thoughts occur quickly and automatically. Take a quick look at this image.

What thoughts came up for you? What came to mind right away? Consider your first thought. It came very quickly, right? Maybe automatically? And what made you “think it?” Perhaps a certain memory or experience? Did you focus on just one thing?______________________________________

Now, take a few moments and think of at least 3 other interpretations of the image. Was it easier or more difficult to come up with other meanings?______________________________________


Interpreting situations quickly and automatically is helpful in many situations, especially in a dangerous situation - e.g., you need to “think fast” if a speeding car is quickly approaching when you’re crossing the street. 

However, when it comes to negative emotions, focusing on just one thing can get you “stuck” in that negative emotion.


A pattern of negative automatic thoughts is called a thinking trap - we will discuss two common thinking traps.

You're more likely to respond in unhelpful ways with thinking traps. Identifying the type of trap isn’t that important. What matters? Noticing it.

When you’re aware of your thinking traps and question your first thoughts, you’re on the way to improving your cognitive flexibility. 


Which of the following are thinking traps for you?

  • Jumping to conclusions

  • Thinking the worst

  • Other

Instead of thinking that your automatic thoughts are true, think of them as a possible interpretation.

Your goal: To explore other meanings/interpretations.


How can you get your negative thinking unstuck and improve your cognitive flexibility? Refer to Module 4: Cognitive Flexibility of your Resilience Workbook. In the first exercise, you’ll answer questions to help you move past your negative automatic thoughts and consider other possibilities. 


It also is common for people to have negative automatic thoughts about the experience of emotions. For example, “I shouldn’t feel stressed.” 

Practice other ways to think about your experiences with emotions. Remember what you learned in the previous module about mindful emotional awareness - i.e. being aware of your emotions without judgment.

How might you rethink your experiences with emotions? For example, if you're thinking, “I shouldn’t feel stressed,” instead you might think:______________________________________ (Rewrite the sentence with a positive thought)


When “rethinking” negative automatic thoughts, you may have trouble coming up with alternative interpretations or conclusions that seem believable. 

It may be related to an unhelpful core automatic thought - i.e. more general, deep-seated thoughts about yourself or your world. These thoughts are based on past experiences. New situations might remind you of these past experiences and bring up a similar response.

You may think “I don’t matter,” “I’m a failure,” or “It’s not safe out there.” This type of thinking may lie beneath your negative automatic thoughts.


You can dive deeper into core automatic thoughts using your Resilence Workbook. Refer to the second exercise of Module 4: Cognitive Flexibility.

With the Downward Arrow form, you’ll get to the source of your core automatic thoughts that may lie underneath your negative automatic thoughts.

You can replace negative core automatic thoughts with neutral, balanced ones. Instead of, “I’m a failure and I’ll never get ahead,” you might think, “Sometimes I fail, but I also win.”

Talk with your coach about this Downward Arrow exercise. They can guide you through it.