Andrew Bernstein, author of “Breaking the Stress Cycle: 7 Steps to Greater Resilience, Happiness and Peace of Mind” and founder of the Resilience Academy, created a seven-step process uncover and dismantle negative thoughts that lead to stress. He likens the process to the way farmers take manure and, through a deliberate series of steps, turn it into compost. What begins as a toxin transforms into a source of growth.
Active Insight transforms stress into insight, accelerating capacity for empathy and peace of mind. The process can be applied to any situation at a children’s hospital, no matter the person’s role or the circumstances, he says. It simply requires a piece of paper, a pen and a few minutes.
Describe something you experience as stressful.
Start by translating stressful thoughts onto paper in a single, concise sentence. Frame the sentence with “should” or “shouldn’t” statements. Be concise and honest.
“My patients and their families should treat me better.”
“My boss should acknowledge my work more.”
“It shouldn’t be so hard to find staff.”
How strongly do you feel that belief to be true?
Rate the strength of your belief on a scale of 0 to 10. This helps you see how big an issue it is and allows you to measure progress. Base your rating on when your emotions are strongest. If the statement is a seven or higher, it’s worth working on.
Steps 3A and 3B
How do you feel when you believe this? How do you act when you feel this way?
These steps illustrate the cause-and-effect relationship between beliefs, feelings and actions. In the official worksheet, Bernstein lists more than 20 emotions. Name at least three.
Write the negation of your statement from Step 1.
Change the verb phrase in the first statement to negate it. Then add “in reality” at the beginning of the statement and “at this time” at the end of the statement.
“In reality, my patients and their families should not treat me better at this time.”
“In reality, my boss should not acknowledge my work more at this time.”
“In reality, it should be hard to find staff at this time.”
Bernstein calls this the most important step because it’s where you challenge your thinking head-on. By nature, this is difficult because most people aren’t used to challenging their own thinking. But this step provides the payoff. “If you have the ability to be wrong, if you recognize that there can be a real growth experience in developing compassion and empathy by seeing, by increasing your accountability, this step can give you a tailwind, a structure for making that more accessible,” he says.
Write below all the proof you can find that supports the negation. List at least 5 to 10 proofs.
Imagine you’re a lawyer or scientist whose sole job is to prove the negation, listing all the evidence. In step four, your hand is on the light switch; in step five, you’re going to flip it. “We’re not letting go; we’re not blaming or accepting; we’re just challenging our ability to see reality more clearly,” Berstein says.
“In reality, my patients and their families should not treat me better at this time because they are suffering and experiencing tremendous stress and fear.”
“In reality, my boss should not acknowledge my work more at this time because she is carrying extra burdens to support our team as we’re understaffed.”
“In reality, it should be hard to find staff at this time because health care professionals are burned out.”
Read the list aloud all at once. If the negation rings true, you know you’re finished with this step. “This step is hard because it asks you to hold yourself accountable for seeing the truth,” Bernstein says. “When you do this step for real, a change takes place in how you feel.”
Steps 6A and 6B
How do you feel when you see the truth of the negation? What actions might come from this?
Some emotions might include calm, clear, compassionate, grateful, honest, understanding, supportive or tolerant. Once the emotions are named, think about actions that could come from them. Is there something to start doing or stop doing? Maybe it’s communicating better with someone, apologizing for an action or forgiving something.
Read the original statement from Step 1. How strongly do you see this statement as true now?
Compare your rating in step two with your rating now. The difference between the two is called a point drop. If the point drop is small, Bernstein suggests starting with a less-charged topic and understanding that step five is not asking you to condone anything or keep things the same. You are focusing on a truth as it appears in a single moment. With more practice and sincerity, this point drop will increase. And so will your insights.
Access the Active Insight worksheet and a free course at the Resilience Academy.