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These were my challenges in March:
1 hour of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) study and/or practice each day. (And putting the techniques into practice throughout my day.)
1 guided meditation or mindfulness exercise each day.
How did I do?
Both of my challenges were a success! I managed to complete them on most days, and I have learned a lot. The challenges complemented each other well, as I expected. I will go into more detail about each challenge below.
CBT Study and Practice
I started off well, and managed to do some learning every day at first. On a couple of occasions, I didn’t have time for a full hour so I caught up the next day. However, from the 21st March onwards I got behind as I had some busy days where I was preoccupied with other things. I didn’t really manage to catch up with my CBT study in the last days. Despite this, the ideas I had been learning about were still fresh in my mind, so I was still thinking about them and putting CBT techniques into practise.
What resources did I use for my learning?
On the first day, I watched several YouTube videos about CBT (or should I say, ‘listened to’ rather than ‘watched’ because I was washing up at the time!) which taught me some of the basics of CBT. I did this on another day later in the month as well. YouTube is a mine of information, and it’s a good way of learning while doing other activities such as washing up, ironing or preparing food.
I found a few CBT related podcasts on Spotify, but not many, and they weren’t particularly informative. There are probably other podcasts available somewhere online though.
Books were my main source of learning this month. I started by reading an e-book called ‘Introducing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ by Daniel Anderson. In my opinion it wasn’t very well written, so I just skimmed it for key points.
Next, I read the whole of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies. This made up the majority of my CBT Study. I really liked this book and got a lot out of it. I’ve written a review of this book, so check it out if you would like to find out more about it.
I also bought the Kindle version of another book – ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: 7 Ways to Freedom from Anxiety, Depression and Intrusive Thoughts‘. So far, I have got half way through this book, and I think it’s quite good. I will continue to read this book over the coming weeks.
I did a web search for information about CBT, and I read a few web pages about it. I also signed up for an online therapy site, which claimed to teach and use CBT techniques. Although, I didn’t find the interactive therapy very useful, there was a lot of good information about CBT on the programme.
I downloaded a few apps onto my Android phone. These included:
- Cognitive Diary – This is an app to help you change your irrational thinking. I used it a couple of times to record and re-think events that had happened.
- Happify – This app has exercises and games to help improve your wellbeing. It was okay but it kept freezing and crashing, and it had limited content without buying the premium version.
- Woebot – This is a virtual robot that checks in with you each day. It gives you helpful snippets of information, reminders and exercises based on CBT. This is a fun app and I will continue to use it.
What practical exercises did I do?
As I went along, I jotted down notes, quotes and techniques that I found helpful, in a note on my phone (and sometimes on paper). I also photographed certain pages and diagrams from CBT for Dummies that I found useful. I tried out a few of the practical techniques I came across, for example, making entries in the Cognitive Diary app, and filling in worksheets from CBT for Dummies. Additionally, I kept a note in my phone where I wrote down ‘thought replacements’, i.e. positive thoughts to replace certain negative thoughts that I was having. However, I have mainly been applying techniques and mindsets in my head, to change my thinking in general, rather than carrying out specific practical exercises.
What have I learned from studying CBT?
I feel like I understand CBT much better now than I did at the start of the month. Really I had no clue what it was about before! It was different to what I expected, because I imagined it to involve special clever techniques of reprogramming thoughts, almost like Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) which would probably require help from a trained therapist in order to be effective. In fact, I found CBT much easier than expected, to apply alone. It’s all about changing your thoughts and your focus of attention, in the present moment.
I think CBT is so simple and effective. You do have to put in the work to implement it, but it’s not actually hard work. It’s just a different way of thinking, and you have to remember to keep it forefront in your mind. It’s about training your brain to think in new ways, and the more you practise it, the more progress you will make.
CBT vs The Law of Attraction
I definitely found that CBT shares a lot of similarities with the Law of Attraction. It is basically a scientific, rather than spiritual take on the same thing. A difference I have noticed between CBT and the LoA is that CBT is about being ‘realistic’, rather than necessarily positive. So rather than visualising yourself living your dream life, you would just visualise things being okay or ‘less negative’ because that’s a smaller step up from where you are, and hence ‘realistic’.
CBT is very much based in an objective reality mindset. With CBT, ‘your thoughts create your feelings about reality’ whereas with the LoA, ‘your thoughts create your reality’. CBT trains you to think about the positive things that are already in your life, or an easily attainable step away. The LoA trains you to think about the positive things that are not yet in your life, because by thinking about them you will create them.
Both CBT and the LoA are valid and effective. They are objective and subjective reality versions of the same concept. They can be used in conjunction with each other.
How has CBT helped me?
The CBT techniques that I have learned have genuinely helped me. I’ve got better at recognising when I’m engaging in unhelpful thoughts or actions, and replacing them with helpful thoughts and actions. Depending on my mood, sometimes this is easy and other times it takes a lot of willpower and discipline.
I’ve found the concept of focusing on my current task and my environment, rather than on myself, very helpful. I have actually enjoyed many of my rehearsals and social situations because I have lived more in the moment and found things to enjoy about them, rather than watching the clock and wanting them to be over.
I have learnt that avoidance maintains and even increases anxiety. On occasions I have deliberately done things that I am anxious about, in order to overcome my anxiety. I am proud of this.
I’ve still had ups and downs in my mental health, but overall I am in a good place at the moment. I would put this down at least in part to my CBT learning and practice. When I’ve had difficult days, I’ve used CBT techniques and they have helped me to carry on functioning, and to get happy again faster. They have helped me to trust that things will be okay, no matter how I feel in that moment.
I haven’t overcome any major roadblocks in my life yet by using CBT, but I am on my way!
I will continue applying CBT to my life. Before I did this challenge, I had wondered if I would need a therapist to help me apply CBT effectively, but I don’t think this is the case, at this stage at least. I am finding CBT easy to learn and apply by myself.
During the past month, I have picked up many book recommendations so I will continue reading CBT books in the near future, to further my learning.
I am planning to write a blog post with more details about what I have learnt from studying CBT, and how it has helped me. So watch this space! [Update: Here it is!]
I did a meditation or mindfulness exercise on the majority of days, and I usually caught up when I missed a day.
What kinds of meditation and mindfulness exercises did I do?
On most days, I used The Honest Guys guided meditations on YouTube, which I like a lot. Towards the end of the month, I tried some other YouTube guided meditations, from various different channels. Another channel I especially liked was Great Meditation, although I have only tried a couple of their meditations so far.
On one occasion, I did a mindful eating exercise from a YouTube video, while eating some soup. Other than this, I didn’t do any other kinds of mindfulness exercise.
I did all of my guided meditations on my acupressure mat. Usually when I meditate, I fidget a lot and find it hard to keep physically still. The mat definitely helps me to keep still and relax, after a bit of initial fidgeting and getting comfortable. Lying on the mat causes a relaxing feeling to spread through me, and the physical relaxation helps me to get more absorbed into the meditation.
Sometimes I got sleepy during my guided meditations, and hence I wasn’t really meditating, just relaxing. Other times, I still struggled to quiet my mind and focus on the meditation. But most days I achieved the right balance between these extremes.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve got any better at staying focused mentally during meditations, and without the mat I would probably be like I was before – fidgety and distracted. But whether or not my meditations were effective in a mindfulness sense, they were certainly relaxing thanks to the acupressure mat, and I found myself looking forward to them. I often meditated shortly before going to rehearsals or events, to relax me.
Have I been more mindful in general?
I haven’t really made a deliberate effort to practise mindfulness outside of my guided meditations. However, because of my CBT study, I have been becoming more aware of my thoughts, and focusing more on the moment. I would attribute this to my CBT study rather than to my mindfulness practice. But I suppose both these challenges probably helped and complemented each other!
I won’t say that I have to do it every day, but I am planning to continue to use guided meditations on my acupressure mat, as a relaxation aid when I need it. I also intend to continue to be mindful of my thoughts as I practise CBT.