The thought review is the basic tool of cognitive therapy. It is ten questions that lead you step-by-step method through the process of changing your thinking. A thought review gives you a chance to reflect on your thinking after the fact, when you’re not reacting out of fear or anger, and come up with a better way of handling a situation. You can do a thought review about any experience that you would like to have handled differently.
The first six steps of a thought review help you understand your negative thinking and where it came from. The next four steps help you come up with healthier thinking and incorporate it into your life. You can write a thought review about any experience that you would like to have handled differently. You can write about past or current experiences. Start with easy ones at first.
The thought review was originally called a “thought record” by Dr. Beck. I prefer the more general term “thought review” because it implies that you can do a thought review mentally. You don’t have to write it down necessarily, especially when you don’t have time.
Discuss your plans with your doctor or therapist before starting to do thought reviews. Write down a thought review every day for a month and see how much better you think and feel.
1. The situation. Briefly describe the situation that led to your unpleasant feelings. This will help you remember the situation later if you review your notes.
I said something wrong at a social event. I felt embarrassed and later I was anxious thinking about it.
2. Initial thought. What thought first crossed your mind? This was probably a subconscious or automatic thought that you have had before.
I feel like a failure. I worry that people will judge me. I hate that I feel this way inside, and that I’m always making dumb mistakes.
3. Consider the consequences. Why do you want to change your thinking? Consider the short-term and long-term consequences if you don’t change? Look at the psychological, physical, professional, and relationship consequences.
If I continue to think like this, my negativity will affect my relationships and possibly my health. I'm damaging my self-esteem. I'll become exhausted.
4. Challenge your initial thought. How successful has this thinking been for you in the past? What facts do you have that support or challenge your initial thought? What strengths do you have that you may have overlooked? What advice would you give someone else in the same situation?
I feel overwhelmed when I try to be perfect.I'm hard on myself. I don't have to be perfect. People who always beat themselves up are boring. I prefer people who are kind to themselves.People have been interested in what I have said in the past.I am not this critical of other people who make occasional mistakes.
5. [Optional] Negative thinking. Summarize the kind of negative thinking behind your initial thought. Identify one or more types: All-or-nothing, Focusing on the negatives, Catastrophizing, Negative self-labelling, Excessive need for approval, Mind reading, Should statements.
I was mind-reading, self-labeling and focusing on the negatives.
6. [Optional] Background. When did you first have initial thoughts like this? How deep do the roots go? Do you know anyone else who thinks like this? How successful has this thinking been for them?
I can hear the voice of my parent saying that I’m a failure and that I’ll never amount to anything.
7. Alternative thinking. Now that you understand your negative thinking, look for a healthier way of thinking about the situation. How could you have handled it differently?
I don't have to be perfect. Nobody is. I have some strengths that people appreciate. I want to get rid of this negative thinking. I feel better when I am kind to myself.
8. Positive belief and affirmation. Write down an affirmation, in a positive form, that reflects your healthier approach. Choose something that you can use as a reminder.
Everybody makes mistakes. Be kind to yourself.
9. Action plan. What can you do if this situation arises again? Knowing your tendencies, how can you prepare for the situation? Write a list of strengths you bring to the situation? What can you do if you fall back on old habits?
The next time I make a mistake, I won't dwell on the negatives. I will remind myself of my past successes. I will remember to be kind to myself and to others.
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 life.
If you write a thought record every day for a month, you will begin to spot your negative thinking quickly and come up with healthy alternatives more easily.
For your convenience, I have included a thought review template that you can print without restrictions.
The thought review illustrated above is designed to produce fast and long-lasting change because it is based on the steps of self-change.
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 traditional thought record, introduced by Dr. Beck, uses a column format. You write your thoughts on specially lined paper within columns. There are usually five or six columns per thought record.
The thought review introduced here 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. First, you are not limited to five or six steps. This allows you to look deeper into your thoughts, and gives you more chances to think about your thinking. Second, a thought review in journal format gives you more room to write down your thoughts. You are not limited by narrow columns, which also helps you look deeper.
Traditional Thought Record