Most counseling experiences are going to touch on cognitive exercises in some way, shape, or form.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, there are a number of catchy little phrases like "The Attitude is Gratitude" which serve to change the chemistry in my brain and body very rapidly.
In fact, Mihalyi Cszikszentmihalyi,Ph.D., the author of the book FLOW says that we respond to changes in facial expression and tone of voice in 1/18th second, which is about twice as fast as I can blink my eyes. I have also seen the number of thoughts we have is 60,000 per day, so we already do a lot of cognitive exercise.
So I need to have my cognitive exercise thoughts available for frequent and rapid deployment over the course of the day in order to achieve my feeling and or behavioral goals.
In fact, cognitive exercises might actually involve a workout, because a brain that is regularly exercised is a brain in which awareness is increased, and the potential for positive cognitive exercises is increased.
Perhaps you have never heard of the concept of brain fitness. For an excellent picture of brain fitness, let me recommend Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D., and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan. Their work is written for us non--professional neuroscientists, which makes it a very useful tool in your search for cognitive exercises.
But perhaps you got to this page in search of some information about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) which are models of counseling which teach us how to become aware of our self-talk and dispute it if it is not serving us.
No, you do not have to believe your self-talk, often we develop some patterns or habitual words that pop into our heads in response to a perception, like a look of irritation on my wife's face.
I might say to myself, "What did I do now?", and feel fear, or anger.
That kind of habitual response is called an automatic negative thought, and needs to be disputed, or questioned in my head before I respond to my wife's expression with a shout or a defensive or argumentative comment, because she may have just stubbed her toe, and her expression has nothing to do with me.
In order to complete that cognitive exercise, I need to be attending to how I am feeling, what words are running through my head as I move through the day, and if the words are about an event that happened years ago, or may happen in the future, I need to bring my focus back to the here and now, and make the cognitions in my head work for me.
My experience with cognitive exercises has been on the job if you will, and I usually discover an ANT or automatic negative thought after I have suffered an unpleasant consequence, but there are some new tools out there that give me an opportunity to train my awareness of my thinking so I can change the thought to change the feeling before I utter the words which will get me in trouble, or I make the expression which someone else may interpret as insulting.
The first tool, which Evans and Burghardt discuss, is a brain fitness program called Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, based on the dual n back task, which is a fun, frustrating, and addictive practice which will increase your awareness of how fast you drift away from a task.
Mind Sparke practice has the side effect of increasing your IQ also, as measured by your fluid intelligence. Practice with Mind Sparke will exponentially increase your awareness of what is happening in your own head, and give you the ability to replace limiting cognitions with something more empowering. (Remember Gratitude is the Attitude)?
Remember, I can dispute automatic negative thoughts as frequently as I want, and I can even practice automatic positive thoughts, (APT)sort of like what the Transcendental Meditation folks would call a mantra.
Want to check out some very interesting work on meditation? Read Sharon Begley's book, "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain", which reports that meditation makes measurable changes in the size of certain areas of your brain. So focus like what I am advocating is very good for your brain in many ways.
I really like the impact that Mind Sparke has had on my awareness and attentional skills, since I am 62 and want my brain to stay connected to person, place, and time, which means am here on this plane of reality.
The next program which helps me become significantly more aware of my current cognitive exercises is a heart rate variability biofeedback program called Heartmath, which trains me to establish a coherent heart rate variability heart beat by heart beat. It turns out that our hearts have a nervous system all of their own, which is an affiliative and cooperative brain in the heart, if you will.
So the biofeedback about the time between heart beats (coherent of incoherent variability) is impacted by my breathing and my thinking.
In other words with 5 to 10 hours of practice, I can train my heart to respond to a cognitive and breathing exercise with a very pleasant physiology of cooperation and affiliation, and if I happen to drift off to incoherence or automatic negative thoughts, I simply do my Heartmath cognitive exercise to return to coherence.
So it turns out that cognitive exercises can be attended to quickly, and with enough practice I am steering my thinking like I steer my automobile, with many thousands of small adjustments.
You are now designing your cognitive exercises.
Would You Share What You Are Most Grateful For?
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.