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The Table Video

Jeffrey M. Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz: 4 Steps to Changing Your Brain for Good

Research Psychiatrist, UCLA School of Medicine
December 17, 2013

Research Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA) explains his 4-step mindfulness method, outlined in his book, You Are Not Your Brain. 1. Relabel – 2. Reframe – 3. Refocus – 4. Revalue


The four steps is really good for everybody because it really is a form of applied mindfulness. The reason why it’s good for everybody is we all get cognitive distortions. We all get deceptive brain messages. These are constants in human cognition. Here is an introductory primer on the four steps. The four steps are relabel, reframe, refocus, revalue. When we say relabel, what we mean is put a label on your experience. And especially experiences, which we call deceptive brain messages, that are going away from your long term goals and values. So if you find yourself, you know, worrying about things that you say, I’m feeling worried right now or if you feel yourself getting agitated, I’m getting agitated right now, or if you feel yourself getting anxious, I’m getting anxious right now, etc. Now, that’s relabel, put a label on it so you actually remind yourself, this is how I’m feeling right now.

Step 2 is reframe. Now, there are two major ways of reframing. One is to use mindful awareness and use the wise advocate and just consult with the wise advocate, but something that enhances doing that is becoming aware of cognitive distortions, and in my book You Are Not Your Brain there is a table of eight cognitive distortions, this is a short presentation so we’re not going to go through all of them right now but two classic ones that are just very good intros are all or nothing thinking.

Be aware, when you’re getting into black and white thinking where you’re basically saying this is either great or this is terrible. Be aware that you want to most of time be able to think in some version of the gray zone certainly as a way of processing what you’re thinking. So you don’t want to get down on yourself by using all or nothing thinking which basically has a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If it’s not perfect it’s terrible. There’s a lot of things that aren’t that can get better if you work with them, and recognizing all or nothing thinking as a cognitive distortion will help prevent you from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

And then the other one that I think is very important is what we call emotional reasoning and that is one where just because you feel something is wrong you immediately jump to the conclusion that something must be wrong. Now it doesn’t mean that you ignore what’s the feeling that something’s wrong, in fact you relabel the feeling that something’s wrong. I’m feeling like something’s wrong, but then you frame it and reframe it to say is this just a feeling? Is something really wrong? You think it through, you consult your wise advocate and so you don’t make the cognitive distortion of confusing reality with your feelings and making the jump to conclusion I feel like something’s wrong, something must really be wrong. Something may well be wrong, but it may not be the thing that you feel is wrong and this helps you to again consult your wise advocate, think more clearly. Relabel, reframe. Those are just the first two steps.

The third step is refocus. So once you have used relabeling and reframing to basically get your cognitive field clear, and you’re recognizing where you want to go, now you focus your attention in the moment in the direction you want to go and that basically means do something constructive. It can be very simple. It can be very, very simple. And a lot of the time, if you’re worried or you’re nervous, just actually focusing your attention on anything that is adaptive tends to, again, direct your attention away from what you’re worrying about and gives you a chance to sort of not act precipitously and has the added benefit of doing something constructive. So, refocusing is again an intentional control approach and that’s where you rewire your brain.

It’s through the refocusing of attention that the brain gets rewired and when you use the first three steps, relabel, reframe, refocus regularly, the fourth step revalue basically starts to kick in essentially automatically and what that means is you start to actually get an adaptive value system which kind of re- relabels, reframes and gets you in the process of refocusing without having to break it down into three steps. So that’s what I mean revaluing when I talk about doing this regularly, refocusing regularly after relabeling and reframing, gets you into a pattern in which you actually wire your wise advocate into your happy center and the revaluing is reflecting of that, that now your valuations are more constructive, your wise advocate is now automatically part of the choices that you make and this is basically a positive feedback mechanism that allows you to rewire your brain continually in a more and more adaptive and functional way and that is the hallmark of self-directed neuroplasticity. [stirring music]