LEARN TO SEE YOUR PROBLEMS AS OPPORTUNITIES IN DISGUISE
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you change thought patterns that don't serve you. So how can Reframing, a CBT technique, help you become a better photographer?
Every photographer has been plagued with negative thoughts that stop them from reaching their goals. Any time those thoughts get triggered we feel the dread overwhelm us, and decide that maybe we should just give up.
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
- I’m just not a talented photographer.
- I’ll never see my work in magazines.
- My peers are all having success but I’ll never make ends meet.
- If I make what I really want to make, no one will understand it.
- This shoot is going downhill and everyone is going to find out that I’m an imposter.
- I’ll never get clients.
- If this doesn’t succeed, I’ll be ruined and lose all credibility.
- It’s the clients fault for showing up late, now the photos will be ruined.
If so, you’re just like every other photographer out there. We all have insecurities, fears, and negative thoughts that stop us from taking the chances or seeking the growth we could take advantage of to become better photographers. But there is one technique you can use help you take these thoughts and fears, and turn them into something useful that will move you toward your goals instead of away from them.
What is Cognitive Reframing?
Anytime someone encounters a situation or circumstance, they’ll interpret the situation based on their experience. From that interpretation, they’ll create meaning around the situation, often by telling themselves a story about it.
For someone who has been bitten by a dog, even normal canine behavior might look dangerous.
Cognitive Reframing is a technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (cbt) that helps people improve their mental and emotional health by noticing their negative thoughts, paying attention to what causes them, and then changing the frame through which they view the situation. Using reframing psychology improves mental health and mood, and makes us more capable and happier.
In the same way that changing a lens can change the way we see a scene, changing the way we frame a situation can change the way we think and feel about it.
When people don’t pay attention to their thoughts and try to reframe them, they can fall prey to negative patterns of thoughts and feelings, which affects their emotions and behaviors. Cognitive distortions, such as “I'll never be good enough,” will encourage people not to take chances and stay in their comfort zones.
Instead of looking at your latest no-sale client as a failure, cognitive reframing can teach you to see the situation as a chance to learn how better to serve your clients so that NO client walks out the door unhappy.
Instead of thinking, “my peers are all having success but I’ll never make ends meet,” you’ll learn to think, “my peers' success is proof that I can be successful, too!”
Even during a photoshoot, photographers can catch those unhelpful, negative thoughts like, "I can't get the lighting right, I'm a failure," into thoughts that can serve them, such as, "this is an opportunity to slow down learn a bit more about light, so I can nail this."
"What if I fall? Oh but, my darling, but what if you fly?"
How Can Cognitive Reframing Help Photographers?
Just like all creatives, and all people, photographers have thought patterns and coping mechanisms that aren’t always helpful or positive. From imposter syndrome to fears around money or networking, we struggle with negative thoughts and feelings that hold us back.
Reframing allows us to take those negative thoughts and flip them on their heads. A popular quote that suits the situation well is, “What if I fall? Oh my darling, what if you fly?”
When a door closes, instead of seeing it as a missed opportunity, we remind ourselves that doors open both ways. Or, that if a door closed, it’s because there is another, better door opening.
Photographers will often have fear or anxiety around networking because they’ve always told themselves, “I’m not outgoing, and I’m not as interesting as all those people,” but the only proof they have of those thoughts are their own thoughts. If they can reframe those thoughts and begin telling themselves a different story about themselves, they can give themselves both the courage and permission to walk into areas that will help them grow and succeed.
How to use Cognitive Reframing
Here are steps you can take to use cognitive reframing purposefully to make yourself a better, more effective photographer.
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Recognize when you’re having negative thoughts or emotions and ask yourself why those are popping up. The more you can be aware of your thoughts, the easier it is to recognize the unhelpful thoughts and change them.
- Recognize that fear is your brain's response to physical, emotional, or psychological danger. Your brain wants to keep you safe, and any time you step out of your comfort zone there is the danger of pain. Any time there is a possibility of pain, your brain will tell you a scary story to keep you away from that possibility. But growth doesn’t happen in comfort zones, so we can look at fear as a natural response that gives us clues when we’re stepping into new realms of possibility.
- Ask yourself whether there is actually any proof for your negative thoughts and what evidence there is against those thoughts. Often, the only proof we have is our own biases.
- How can you turn those negative thoughts into positive ones? How can you reframe the situation so your thoughts and feelings about it become more positive and helpful.
- Don’t say to yourself, “I’ll never be as good as my peers.” Say, “if my peers are capable of success, that’s proof that I’m capable, too!”
- Don’t say, “I’ll never get clients,” say, “there is so much information out there on how to make marketing work for me that if I learn it, there’s no way I CANT get clients.”
- Instead of saying, “I’m not a talented photographer,” say, “no photographer will work as hard as I will to master this skill.”
- Instead of saying, “They’re going to find out that I’m an imposter,” say, “no one feels confident all the time, this is normal, there is strength in vulnerability, and being open and vulnerable will help other photographers feel less alone.”
- Don’t say, “things didn’t go well because that client was difficult,” say, “I missed something about serving this client, how can I learn from this experience so my clients never leave my studio unhappy?”
- Have people you can talk to who can hold you accountable and remind you of the new stories you want to tell yourself about who you are.
- Give yourself the same empathy and grace you’d give your best friend.
No one is free from negative thoughts and emotions. They’re normal parts of life and are both important and necessary. But there are habits of thought and emotions that can become defeating, cause specific problems, or become crippling.
Cognitive Reframing is a tool of thought photographers can use to train themselves to take unhelpful thoughts that don’t serve them, such as “no one will ever buy this,” and reframe them to thoughts that are more effective, such as, “only the right kind of kind of client will buy this.”
Paying attention to our thoughts, where they came from, and why we have them, will allow us to take thoughts that are unhelpful, and turn them into thoughts that serve us and take us closer to our goals.
All photographs shared courtesy of Olga Tenyanin