Cognitive Restructuring for Association Managers

Brain On A Stick

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Molly Marsh Cropped Photo

Molly Marsh - AMR Management Services


I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2013, although I believe that I have been living with both for most of my life. 2020 and 2021 have been incredibly difficult and mental health professionals all around the world are tracking a significant increase in anxiety, depression, substance use and other mental health disorders. Of course, this impacts not only us as people and leaders, but our associations and organizations as well.

The hope of early summer brought on by vaccine access and advances in our understanding of spread among the vaccinated was exactly the relief I needed, both personally and professionally. It seemed that a return to safe in-person association events was so close we could touch it…then, to have the Delta variant pull the rug out from under us yet again… it was crushing.

In my recent therapy sessions, I was re-introduced to the practice of Cognitive Restructuring (an important element of one of the most commonly-used treatments for anxiety and depression, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). This simple yet powerful tool has helped me regain my footing and also to think differently about the challenges we face as an industry. I am not a clinician and am not offering mental health advice, I simply want to share how this practice that has been absolutely essential in my mental health journey may be able to help my fellow association management leaders navigate this – and any – setback.

To put it simply, Cognitive Restructuring is a technique that can be used to redirect your mental and emotional energy from negative thoughts to positive ones. Negative sentiment has permeated the last 18 months for many associations and organizations, “we can’t do this,” “we won’t survive,” “I just want things to go back to the way they were.” The truth is, shifting these mindsets is critical to the success of our organizations and the process of doing it starts with you.

  • Pause and reflect.
    The first step is allowing yourself and your organization to pause, understand that you’re being guided by negative thought, and recognize that is not the path you want to take.
  • Identify the negative thought.
    I use a journal so that each time I pause, I can write down the negative thought or emotion that has emerged. Expressing the negative thought is freeing in and of itself, often simply seeing it in writing shows just how silly, presumptive, or impossible the fear really is.
  • Assess and evaluate the negative thought.
    Where did the thought come from? How is it impacting me or my organization? Is it really as bad as we fear? Asking some of these simple questions begins to shed light on the weaknesses and cracks in sweeping negativity and move you to a place where you can be productive and helpful.
  • Transform it into something new.
    The constraints and challenges that contribute to negativity are very real right now, but constraints often lead to the most creative and innovative solutions. Once you’ve realized that the negative thought isn’t helpful or rational, the only choice is to find a different outlet…one that is more positive and provides a path forward that you likely were not able to see before.

Personal Note — if you are struggling with your mental health TAKE ACTION. The tools and resources you need exist, take that one step to look. It’s okay not to be okay…  

Molly Marsh Cropped Photo
Molly Marsh

Degrees and Credentials:
Certified Meeting Professional (CMP); Bachelor of Arts, Transylvania University

Association Management Professional Since:

What inspires you about your work?
I have a passion for the world of professional associations and the essential support, resources and connections they provide for members. I am an adult learning and meeting design nerd –I am continually inspired by the chance to design face-to-face meetings and innovate content strategy with new techniques, technologies and ideas.

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