One of the contributions that the cognitive current made in the field of psychology between the 60s of the last century highlighted the relevance of the internal role of the individual as an essential element in the regulation of behavior.
Thus, it began to be seen that the way a person perceives, processes, interprets, stores and retrieves information becomes a fundamental phenomenon which guides his own behavior towards the achievement of particular goals and objectives.
From these considerations was born, among others, what we know today as self-instructions used in the context of applied psychology.
The cognitive approach in psychology
When we consider the component of cognition as an active agent of the behavioral response of the individual, the development of various models, theories and techniques of psychological intervention began in contrast to the behaviorist approach, Which argued that the behavior was changed solely on the basis of environmental and external factors.
Among these new postulates, there are several. On the one hand, Albert Bandura’s theory of social learning, which has had a very significant importance in the application of cognitive-behavioral psychological interventions aimed at training in social skills.
Second, it also stands out Albert Ellis Rational Emotional Behavioral TheoryA type of intervention focused on the treatment of irrational beliefs that has been shown to be effective in therapy for depression or anxiety.
Third, we find Aaron Beck Cognitive Therapy, A therapy that works on cognitive distortions, automatic thoughts; or, more precisely, the technique proposed by D’Zurilla and Goldfried of Problem Solving in which a series of phases are proposed to effectively face the decision-making.
Finally, they are also remarkable the basics of Donald Meichembaum’s self-study training, Who defend the usefulness of adopting an internal discourse and an effective type of self-verbalization in order to facilitate the confrontation of possible unfavorable or complicated personal situations. On this last strategy, a series of specific guidelines for applying this type of psychological resources in a practical way are proposed below.
Cognition as a regulating factor of behavior
Observe aspects such as what goes through a person’s mind when faced with a given situation or experience, the level of awareness of their beliefs, the type of reasoning they do, the conclusions and ideas they generate in this regard .. All this allows you to more precisely determine the type of messages or internal speech that it implements for the control of its own actions.
All of this has a significant impact on the emotional experience and to a large extent modulates the capacity for effective psychological management, such as phenomena such as nuclear beliefs and personal patterns, expectations, cognitive assessment of personal events, taking decision-making in conflict resolution, the factors to which the individual attributes the occurrence of the situations he experiences … they can lead to an experience of significant emotional distress if they are not functionally and adaptively developed.
How to apply the technique of self-instructions?
In the same way that it occurs when taking practical driving lessons in which the teacher gives indications on the steps to be followed to circulate with the vehicle, when he is confronted with a new or difficult situation to manage , the clear instructions that the person perceives to be very useful in facing this situation with more competence and therefore in achieve an adequate level in managing the emotions of discomfort that this event can cause.
In the application of the technique in the field of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, it is the professional who first guides the patient in the identification of the type of internal speech that the latter usually uses, as well as in the detection of messages that negatively interfere with blocking. performing behaviors and stimulating unpleasant emotional reactions (“you’re doing everything wrong” or “you’re useless”) and, finally, internalizing other types of messages that improve personal self-confidence (“if I I’m wrong, I can learn from that “or” when I’m calmer I can express myself more clearly “).
The assistance of the therapist is first of all greater, since at the beginning it is he who proposes these instructions of external form, in order for the patient to learn to be more independent and to practice the use of these positive messages by himself.
For the implementation of this psychological strategy, effective self-instructions can be generated by analyzing and answering a series of questions at different points in the management of the situation: before performing the behavior, during and after the behavior. to have faced. Here are some examples to apply in each of them:
1. Self-instructions before executing the behavior
- What should I do and what goal do I want to achieve?
- What could have helped me achieve this goal? No?
2. Self-instructions during the execution of the behavior
- What am I paying attention to?
- How do I feel about this situation? From one to 10, with what intensity?
- What enables me to reach my goal? No?
3. Self-instructions after executing the behavior
- How do I feel about being able to apply the behavior?
- What aspects of my performance make me proud?
- What can I learn next time?
Characteristics of self-instructions
As for what aspects should be taken into account and included in the content of the self-instructions, The following principles are emphasized.
It is important that messages are rational, realistic, and avoid cognitive distortions, which are defined as irrational, biased, or negative ideas that interfere with the performance of an adaptive psychological response.
These include dichotomy (reasoning in absolute and extreme terms “I’m still stuck”), anticipation (drawing conclusions based on potential assumptions and rigid expectations “I’m sure I’m wrong”), the self-attribution (attributing only the behavior to internal factors without considering other more circumstantial or external factors “if I do not do it correctly, it is because I do not serve it”) or selective abstraction (se just focus on the negatives and ignore them don’t tell me that this part has gone completely wrong, it has been a failure because I failed in this other one.
Another key aspect is that personal messages promote a perception of capacity and sufficient confidence to cope with the situation in order to achieve an adequate prospect of overtaking. Thus, phrases such as “I am able to …” or “I can handle this situation”, etc., can be helpful.
On the other hand, there is a need to slow down and eliminate overly self-critical and self-demanding messages that often prevent you from accepting your own mistakes and difficulties in a natural way. In this sense, it is relevant to avoid focusing the self-instructions on phrases such as “should have done … this way” or “should not have … this way”, etc.
It is important to direct self-verbalizations towards sentences that organize behavior in sequential stages of behavior, In the form of internal action plans that guide the execution of the person’s action, for example: “first I will go towards …, then I will start …, finally I will do .. . “).
Throughout the text, it was possible to verify its importance be aware of the type of internal discourse used to deal with potentially complex events or anxious, Which becomes an essential factor in the self-regulation of individual behavior. From the moment the person is able to identify the distorted or irrational messages that he is addressing to himself and can replace them with more realistic and comprehensive messages, the approach adopted in the response he gives can increase one’s level of behavioral competence and help manage the discomfort generated in a difficult situation.