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The importance of what we tell ourselves when managing discomfort

One of the contributions that the cognitive current made to the field of psychology between the 60s of the century The past revealed the relevance of the internal role of the individual as an essential element in the regulation of conduct.

Thus, it began to be considered that how a person perceives, processes, interprets, stores and retrieves information they become fundamental phenomena that guide their own behavior towards the achievement of objectives and goals individuals.

From these considerations emerged, among other things, what we now know as self-instructions used in the context of applied psychology.

  • Related article: "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?"

The cognitive approach in psychology

By considering the component of cognition as an active agent of the individual's behavioral response, the development of various models, theories and techniques of psychological intervention began as opposed to the behavioral approach, which argued that behavior was modified only based on environmental and external factors.

Among these newer postulates, several stand out. On the one hand, the theory of Albert bandura on Social Learning, which has had a very significant importance in the application of Cognitive-behavioral psychological interventions aimed at Skills Training Social.

Secondly, it also stands out The Rational Emotive Behavioral Theory of Albert Ellis, a type of intervention focused on addressing irrational beliefs that has been shown to be effective in therapies for depression or anxiety.

Third, we find Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy, a therapy that works on cognitive distortions, automatic thoughts; or, more specifically, the technique proposed by D’Zurilla and Goldfried for Problem Solving in which a series of phases are proposed to effectively face decision-making.

Finally, they are also noteworthy the fundamentals of Donald Meichembaum's Self-Instruction Training, who defend the usefulness of adopting an internal discourse and a type of effective self-verbalization in order to facilitate the coping of possible adverse or complicated personal situations. On this last strategy, a series of specific guidelines are offered below to apply this type of psychological resource in a practical way.

Cognition as a regulating factor of behavior

Observe aspects such as what goes through the mind of the person in a certain situation or experience, the level of awareness of his beliefs, the type of reasoning he performs, the conclusions and ideas he generates when respect... all of it allows you to more accurately determine the type of messages or internal speech that it puts into practice to control its own actions.

All this has a significant impact on the emotional experience and modulates in a large proportion the capacity for effective psychological management, since phenomena such as core beliefs and personal schemas, expectations, cognitive appraisal of personal events, decision-making in conflict resolution, the factors to which the individual attributes the occurrence of the situations that experience... can lead to the experience of significant emotional distress if they are not worked out in a functional and adaptive way.

  • You may be interested: "Cognitive psychology: definition, theories and main authors"

How to apply the self-instruction technique?

In the same way that happens when taking practical driving classes in which the teacher offers indications about the steps to follow to circulate with the vehicle, when you have a new or difficult to handle situation in front of you, the Overt instructions that the person perceives are very helpful in coping with such a situation more competently and, therefore, for achieve an adequate level in the management of the emotions of discomfort that this event can cause.

In the application of the technique in the field of cognitive-behavioral psychological therapy, it is the professional who guides the patient first in the identification of the kind of internal speech that the latter usually uses, as well as in the detection of messages that negatively interfere by blocking the execution of the behavior and favoring unpleasant emotional responses ("you do everything wrong" or "you are useless") and, finally, in the internalization of other types of messages that enhance personal self-confidence ("if I'm wrong, I can learn from it" or "when I'm calmer I can express myself in a clearest").

The therapist's help is initially greater, since at the beginning he is the one who proposes these instructions externally, in order for the patient to learn to be more autonomous and to put into practice the use of these positive messages itself.

For the implementation of this psychological strategy, effective self-instructions can be generated by analyzing and responding to a series of questions in the different moments of coping with the situation: before carrying out the behavior, during it and after having it faced. Below, various examples to be applied in each of them are specified:

1. Self-instruction before carrying out the behavior

  • What do I have to do and what goal do I want to achieve?
  • What is going to help me achieve it? Not?

2. Self-instructions during the conduct of the behavior

  • What am I paying attention to?
  • How do I feel about having to face this situation? From one to ten, with how intense?
  • What is allowing me to achieve my goal? Not?

3. Self-instructions after performing the behavior

  • How do I feel about having been able to carry out the behavior?
  • What aspects of my performance make me proud?
  • What can I learn for next time?

Characteristics of the self-instructions

As to what aspects should be considered and included in the content of the self-instructions, the following principles are highlighted.

It is important that the messages are rational, realistic and avoid cognitive distortions, which are defined as irrational, biased or negative ideas that impair the performance of an adaptive psychological response.

Among them are the dichotomy (reasoning in absolute and extreme terms "I always block myself"), anticipation (drawing conclusions based on potential assumptions and rigid expectations "I'm sure I'm wrong"), self-attribution (attributing only the behavior to internal factors without consider other more circumstantial or external "if I do not do it correctly it is because I am not good for this") or selective abstraction (focus only on the negative aspects and disregard the neutral or favorable aspects “although this part has not gone completely wrong, it has been a failure because I have failed in This other".

Another fundamental aspect resides in that self-messages promote a perception of sufficient capacity and confidence to face the situation with the aim of achieving a suitable perspective of improvement. Thus, phrases such as "I am capable of ..." or "I can cope with such a situation", etc., can be useful.

On the other hand, it is necessary to stop and eliminate excessively self-critical and self-demanding messages that in many cases prevent the acceptance of one's mistakes and difficulties in a natural way. In this sense, it is relevant to avoid focusing self-instructions on expressions such as “I should have done... in this way "or" there should not be... like this, ”etc.

It is important to orient self-verbalizations towards phrases that organize behavior through sequential steps of behavior, by way of internal action plans that guide the execution of the person's performance, for example: “first I will…, then I will start…, finally I will…”).

In conclusion

Throughout the text it has been seen how important it is make aware the type of internal speech used in coping with potentially complex or anxious events, which becomes an essential factor in the self-regulation of individual behavior. At the moment in which the person is able to identify the distorted or irrational messages that he directs to himself and can replace them with more realistic and understanding, the approach adopted in the response that it emits can enhance their level of behavioral competence and favor the management of the discomfort generated in a situation difficult.

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