Changing Your Cognitive Style

I mentioned on FB yesterday how much my cognitive style has changed as a result of my psychology training. One of the readers asked me to say more about how it had changed, so here’s my answer. Hopefully this post will show people how it is possible to dramatically change your cognitive style.

– I’m someone who values being successful. I never valued positive emotions much until I read the research and realized that learning to cultivate positive emotions was going to be essential to being maximally successful in life. Yes positive emotions make people happier (obviously) and healthier, but it’s the idea that they’ll make me more successful that motivates me personally. So, I now actively work on cultivating positive emotions – basic things like gratitude, humor, and fun. Believe it or not – these seemed a bit pointless before.

– My relationship with my thoughts has completely changed. I was a ball of anxiety as a child but now when I experience anxiety and anxiety-related thoughts, I’m more interested in them rather than upset or ashamed (and if I’m upset or ashamed, I’m interested in my feelings of upset and ashamed!). Realizing I’m having a thought distortion is a nerdy thrill for me (because I know how to cope and respond).

– Thanks to the research, I now use self-compassion rather than self-criticism when I make a mistake or want to motivate myself to improve in an area. Like I said, I’m motivated by knowing this will result in greater success. I could still kinda care less about feeling better, it’s mainly a positive side effect for me.

– I’m much less of a black and white / all or nothing thinker.

– I know myself extremely well. I know how to rein in some of my qualities and I actually do this. For example, my best qualities include my persistence, resourcefulness, and tendency to feel emotions strongly, but the flip side of persistence is that I’ve got a tendency to be obsessive. I’ve found through experience that putting some limits on my behavior solves the problem of obsessive thinking and overwhelming feelings.

– I’ve realized I have some endearing qualities and that the thought that “People might be attracted to my smartness, but once they really get to know me, they won’t like me” is just a thought. Having a thought, doesn’t make it true.

– All the the above happens naturally now. Cultivating positive emotions feels kinda just like showering and sleeping.

Back when I was a new grad psychology PhD I was quite scared to reveal anything about myself (since it’s not really the done thing in psychology), but I seem to have found a niche of readers who like knowing a little bit about me and that it’s possible to still have some anxiety-related thoughts AND be happy AND be successful.