An introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This acronym, RAIN, comes from the teaching of Jack Kornfield. I consider it to be a basic and powerful tool for change. It is simultaneously eloquently simple and complex. For this reason, I am offering the following explanation.
The first step in making change, controlling a behavior or response begins with recognition. How many times have you looked back on something you have said or done and realized that you did not do it consciously? How may times have you caught yourself driving someplace without even giving much thought to where you're going? We develop habits in not only what we do but in how we think.
To put this first step into practice, you need to work at noticing. It would be great if you could notice the patterns that take place before a thought or action but for now, recognizing when you have begun thinking or acting in a certain way will be plenty.
Imagine you're going to go on a hike to Wild Creek Falls. When you park at the trailhead you notice there are several paths and you start down on the one on the left. Not too far down the trail you have to walk around a large tree stump, a little further you take a foot bridge over a creek. Just ahead you come to a trail sign with the words "Eagle Peak Lookout 1 mile ahead". You keep going anyway and after a steep climb of 1 mile you get to the lookout where you can see the falls on the other side of the ridge. You make the best of this hike, eat lunch from your backpack, enjoy the view and head back to your car.
A week later you return, determined to make it to the falls. You park your car and start down the trail. As you approach a large tree stump in the trail you slow down. You can hear the sound of the creek ahead. Hopefully, this is the moment when recognition takes place and you realize you have gone down the same path again. Maybe you need to walk all the way to the foot bridge before you are willing to accept it.
Whether you reverse course at the big stump or at the foot bridge will be determined by when you go from telling yourself "I know exactly where I am" to "I can't believe this, I have taken the same trail again!" It is amazing how many people recognize their thoughts and actions but refuse to accept them. So, the second step in this process is to accept. I hope you do this kindly and gently with yourself. Acceptance is so much easier when you see what has happened as a truth and avoid blame or judgment. "I have taken the same path again." True. No blame. No judgment.
There are some patterns in our lives that are tough to break. In my mind, it is more useful to recognize and accept when I come to the big stump in the trail than it is to beat myself up for following the path. If I can gently and kindly think to myself "Well, here I am again”, it will be much easier to change direction. Do this enough times and you'll be surprised at how comfortable you become with this step.
This is the point in the process where you can ask yourself, what the heck is this all about? I would recommend you keep it simple. There is a tendency to get too analytical. If you over-analyze there is a chance you might step away from acceptance. It might feel more like you are making excuses then reaching some kind of an understanding.
"After taking everyone to Eagle Peak Lookout I felt so embarrassed. Even though my friends said it was no big deal and teased me playfully, I still hated messing up. I hold myself to pretty high standards. I believe that everyone expects as much of me as I do."
This becomes an important step in the investigation. It allows you to question what you've discovered. It allows you to ask if your thoughts and interpretation are true or if there is a supportive alternative thought or interpretation. Ideally, you will be able to form supportive alternatives such as, "My friends like me just the way I am. We had a great hike and they talked about the magnificent views from the lookout all the way home."
Practice asking yourself what you are thinking or feeling. Investigate the relationship between your thoughts and feelings and your actions. Consider the state you are in. If you are hungry or angry or tired does that influence how you think or feel or act? Are there traits that are true about you? Are you introverted, extroverted, impulsive, compulsive, sensitive? How might your traits affect your thoughts, feelings and actions in a given situation?
This is the most complex of four. Your start by looking at identification. Identification works like this; if you mess up you are a mess up. If you win a gold medal you are a champion. If your partner becomes angry he/she is an angry person. In our culture we take it so far as to identify an actor or actress with a part they have played. Over identification is what happens when we take an action, response, trait or state and decide that this is the entire truth about ourselves or someone else.
"My friends think I'm an idiot. They know that I'm terrible at following trail maps and think I'm too stubborn to ask for directions. This is why I have such a difficult time sustaining friendships. I am an idiot."
This is how non-identification works; I can mess up but I am not a mess up. I can have successes but that does not mean that I am successful. My partner can feel angry but that does not mean that he/she is an angry person. Non-identification means understanding that there is so much more that describes who you are or who someone else is than a given behavior, trait, or state.
There was a football player who ran the wrong way, chased by his teammates trying to stop him, and put the football in the wrong end zone. Forever after he was called Wrong Way Horrigan. You have to wonder if he allowed one play in one game in one season to change how we saw himself for the rest of his life. Did he take that single error that could not have lasted more than 90 seconds and allow it to define everything that was true about him? Did he ignore all of the other things about his life, the millions of other seconds, minutes, experiences and actions and allow those 90 seconds to define him?
We practice non-identification when we recognize that we are so much more. When I mess up it gives me great comfort to remember that there is so much more that is true about me than this one particular action. While it is true that I got us lost on the way to Wild Creek Falls, there is so much more that is also true about me. I am also so much more than my history. Events in my life have been magical and tragic, my actions in the past have been heroic and shameful. While these things contribute to describe and shape me, they are not me.
When I begin to allow something to define me, some narrow description of actions I have taken, good or bad, it is time for me to use RAIN.