What is a CBT Thought Record?

During CBT, one of the main things we work on are your thoughts. This is because our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do, creating the worlds we live in. We have thousands, possibly millions of thoughts every single day. Often, we don’t choose them, they are automatic or triggered by something we see or do or watch on TV. The bad news is lots of these automatic thoughts are unfair, biased and negative. We often feel bad without even realising we’re doing it! The good news is, with practice we can learn a more balanced thinking style. This is where your CBT Thought Record comes in.

What is a CBT Thought Record?

Keeping a CBT Thought Record is designed to get you into the habit of paying attention to your thoughts and working to change them. The process is layered and it takes time. Like I said, most people don’t even notice their automatic thoughts, so the first step is to increase awareness. Then you can start challenging or altering your thoughts. Although thought records may seem like a lot of work in the beginning, over time the process becomes automatic and you won’t have to use the record anymore.

Catching Thoughts

To ‘catch’ your automatic thoughts, you need to start paying attention to what is going through your mind. I believe we can all benefit from this kind of reflection as it helps us become more aware of what’s going on inside our heads. When we become more aware of our minds, we become more aware of our thoughts. This awareness gives us more control over what we do with those thoughts.

When you’re catching thoughts, it’s important to remember that our thoughts are distorted when we’re emotionally heightened. If you’re feeling low, you’ll be very negative. If you’re anxious, you’ll have anxious thoughts. It’s difficult to challenge or alter thinking from this place, so you need to calm the emotion down first. This is why it’s a good idea to just catch the thought, write it down and then challenge it later. If you’re feeling distressed, work on calming your body first. In these situations, mindfulness is an excellent tool to have at your disposal. You can read my tips here.

‘Taking the Thought to Court’

As well as creating more awareness, thought records can be used to help change your thoughts. A few times a week (and especially after any anxiety-provoking situations), note down a negative thought you have and try to be really curious about it. This is sometimes called ‘taking the thought to court’.

Examining your thoughts helps you reach a more balanced perspective that is likely to be better for your well-being. With practice, you will eventually become more analytical of your thoughts and be able to balance them out automatically. Here are a few prompts to get your started:

What is the Evidence?

– Am I confusing a fact with an opinion?

– What is the evidence for the negative thought?

– What is the evidence against the negative thought?

– Are there any small things that contradict the thought? Perhaps things that I am discounting as unimportant?

Is the Thought Helpful?

– Are these thoughts helpful to me?

– Will thoughts like this help me to achieve my goals?

– Do thoughts like this truly have my best interests at heart?

Are There Any Alternative Perspectives?

– If a good friend knew I were having this thought, what would they say to me?

– If someone I loved had this thought, what would I tell them?

– If I wasn’t interested in punishing or condemning myself, would I think in this way?

– Ten years from now, if I look back on this situation, will I look at it any differently?

Is the Thought Biased?

– Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms?

– Am I catastrophizing?

– Am I jumping to any conclusions that are not completely justified by the evidence?

– Am I holding myself to a higher standard than I would hold other people?

Ask the Therapist

You can learn more about Thought Records, including how to create your own, in Episode 33 of the Ask the Therapist podcast. Also, listen to What is CBT and how does it work

Links worth Clicking

What is CBT

The CBT Journal

The Link Between CBT and Journaling

How to Chose a CBT Therapist

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.