In CBT we work to change thinking that is maladaptive — thinking that will not work well for you. Specific thinking processes we work with include automatic thoughts, cognitive errors, misattributions (assigning negative/unhelpful meanings to events) and core beliefs.
Let’s discuss automatic thinking.
Automatic thinking is a stream of thinking that is triggered by events or memories and ideas. It is often outside of your awareness, but you can easily bring it back into your awareness. Automatic thinking is predominantly negative, often constant and continuous, and can be thought of as ‘mind chatter.’
You can easily access automatic thoughts by taking your mind back to a recent event where you felt a high level of negative emotion (e.g., you felt very sad, lonely, angry or worried).
Ask yourself, “What was my mind telling me?” and “What was going through my mind?”
Even as you are reading this, your mind may be chattering to you, saying things such as “This doesn’t make sense,” “This approach never works for me” and “I can’t do this stuff.”
Automatic thoughts ‘feel’ like facts, so it is easy to believe them.
When you believe them, then automatic thinking can become a problem.
Here are some automatic thoughts you might experience:
- I’ve let him/her down.
- It’s too much for me.
- I’m failing.
- Something bad is sure to happen.
- Why am I so weak?
- My life’s going nowhere.
- There must be something wrong with me.
You can use a ‘thought record’ to help change automatic thinking.
It is important to write your thoughts and feelings down.
Because your brain processes information so fast, and often below your awareness, you may need to consciously slow down the process. Paying attention to the content of your thinking and writing it down will help build more awareness around your thoughts and feelings.
What you can do:
- Fill out a three-column thought record (find the free download below)
- Fill the record out when your emotions are high (when you are upset, sad, anxious, etc.)
- Write whatever you think and feel without judging them