How to Write a Thought Record
There are 10 steps to a thought record. The first six steps help you understand your negative thinking. The next four steps help you develop healthier thinking and incorporate it into your life.
Write a thought record about any unpleasant experience that you would like to have handled differently. You can write about past or current experiences. Start with easy ones at first, and wait until you are more practiced before dealing with more uncomfortable experiences.
If you have any doubts about what to write about, discuss your plans with your doctor or therapist. Write a thought record every day for a month and see how much better you think and feel.
1. The situation. Briefly describe the situation you would like to have handled better. This will help you remember it later if you want to review your notes.
I made a mistake at work. I felt anxious and was reminded of past failures.
2. Initial thought. What thought first popped into your mind? This was probably a subconscious or automatic thought that you have had before.
I feel like a failure. If people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me.
3. Negative thinking. Identify the negative thinking behind your initial thought. Choose one or more from the list of common types of negative thinking.
This is self-labeling and disqualifying the positives.
4. Source of negative belief. Can you trace your thinking back to a situation or person? Is there a deep belief or fear driving your thinking? Search your heart.I can hear the voice of my parent saying that I’m a failure and that I’ll never amount to anything.
5. Challenge your thinking. Look at the evidence both for and against your thinking. Have you been in a similar situation before? What did you learn from it? What strengths do you bring to this situation? Make sure you see the whole picture.
I'm hard on myself. I don't always succeed, but I do sometimes. People have complimented me on my work. I feel overwhelmed when I try to be perfect.
6. Consider the consequences. What are the short-term and long-term consequences if you continue to think like this? Look at the physical, psychological, professional, and emotional consequences.
I'm damaging my self-esteem. If I continue to think like this, my negativity will affect my relationships and possibly my health. I'll become exhausted.
7. Alternative thinking. The previous steps of the thought record helped you understand your thinking and lower your defenses. Now that you've considered the facts, write down a healthier way of thinking.
I don't have to succeed at everything. I can learn from my mistakes. I’m not a failure. I want to get rid of this negative thinking. I'm being hard on myself.
8. Positive belief and affirmation. Write down a statement that reflects your healthier beliefs. Find something that you can repeat to yourself.
A mistake is not failure. I am successful in many ways.
The serenity affirmation - "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
9. Action plan. What action can you take to support your new thinking?
The next time I make a mistake, I won't dwell on the negatives. Instead I will focus on what I can learn from my mistake. I will remind myself of my past successes.
10. Improvement. Do you feel slightly better or more optimistic? This step reinforces the idea that if you change your thinking, you will change your mood. Gradually over time, your thinking and life will begin to improve.
If you write a thought record every day for a few weeks, you will begin to change your thinking. You'll spot your negative thinking quickly and let it go. You will come up with better alternatives. You will practice your healthier way of thinking and incorporate it into your life. (Reference: www.CognitiveTherapyGuide.org .)
The Step Thought Record and Change
The step thought record illustrated above is designed to produce fast and long-lasting change because it is based on the steps of self-change.
- Identify what you need to change
- Let it go
- Learn healthier coping skills and thinking
- Incorporate these changes into your life
Steps 1-6 are about identifying what you need to change and letting it go. Steps 7-10 are about developing healthier thinking and incorporating it into your life.
The Step Thought Record Compared to the Traditional Thought Record
The traditional thought record, introduced by Dr. Beck, uses a column format. You write your thoughts on specially lined paper within the columns provided, and there are usually five or six columns per thought record. But, you have to write your thoughts within the columns provided, which may not give you enough room to think.
The step thought record uses a journal format, where each step starts a new line. This may seem like a small change, but it has a number of advantages. You are not limited to five or six steps, which gives you the opportunity to analyze your thinking deeper. It also gives you more room to write and it follows the steps of self-change.
Traditional Thought Record
Step Thought Record
For your convenience, I've included a printable introduction to cognitive therapy and a thought record template.