Our thoughts are primarily negative all day without realizing it. While that can sometimes serve as a protective measure, more often those negative, unmanaged thoughts only make us very unhappy.
The primary, proven step is to catch an unhelpful thought (meaning you have to be mindful and breathing deeply enough for your brain to get enough fresh oxygen to make great decisions), then vividly imagine a red, octagonal STOP sign and shout STOP! If you are around others, I’d advise you to shout silently, but with some emotion. That should short circuit your problem thought for 2 to 6 seconds, so you need to immediately substitute it with an entirely different, accurate, positive thought, or even a problem such as, “Where did I leave the keys to ___?”
Why don’t you take your most troubling thought right now? When you have troubling thoughts it is a great opportunity to practice CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Originally introduced to treat depression it is now used for a variety of issues, such as negative thoughts, anxieties, fearful thoughts, unnecessary worry and a host of other troublesome automatic thinking patterns. A thought record is one of the fundamental tools in CBT.
The underlying principle can be summarized as “what do you believe, and why do you believe it and are you aware of the feeling/emotion in your body when you think this thought?”. A columned thought record can be used to:
• identify negative automatic thoughts (NATs)
• help you understand the links between thoughts and emotions
• examine the evidence for and against a selected NAT – is it true, what can be done about it or if it isn’t true then what is true, accurate and reasonable thinking instead of falsely ruminating
In therapy clients often need assistance and practice at identifying the link between thoughts and emotions before they move on to challenging thoughts and substituting more helpful thoughts for less helpful ones. Some clients might find it helpful to practice identifying NATs using a Simple Thought Record before introducing the complexity of evidence-gathering and thought challenging.
The principle stems from Socratic Reasoning (is it true, is it always true, then is it false, is it always false)
The simplest version is:
What is your core belief (negative thought)?
List 3 reasons why it is true (or useful, or why I want it):
List 3 reasons why it might not be true (or why it would not be good for me):
What could you do to improve or eliminate this situation:
Our thoughts control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Positive thoughts lead to us feeling good and negative thoughts can put us down. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts. They are often negative or at least not useful. They can even apply to ruminations about romantic partners lost or present.
Oftentimes, our automatic thoughts are negative and irrational – sometimes not but can still be intrusive and unwanted. Identifying these negative automatic thoughts and replacing them with new rational thoughts can improve our mood.
WHAT IS CBT? – Why Should You Care?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) a particularly useful type of a part of talk therapy. CBT can work just as well or better than medication for some people, to treat depression and a host of other Dx’s (diagnoses). As a result of tests and considerable research showing that it is highly effective, it is accepted as “evidence-based medicine”, meaning most insurance companies will readily accept that form of treatment. In fact, it can often be the treatment of primary choice when dealing with TBI’s and other challenging Dx’s such as anger, addiction, coping issues and self-esteem issues which are often at the core of many problems therapists deal with.
CBT can be an effective treatment for different severity’s of depression whether mild or moderate. Highly skilled therapists also use CBT even for more severe cases. In certain cases, CBT can be the most effective when combined with other forms of treatments, for example antidepressants or other drugs along with therapy. In other cases, they may not be needed or can be reduced as determined by your personal physician or psychiatrist.
How Does CBT Works –
A therapist who is CBT trained helps the patient identify negative or false thoughts and uses various methods to stop and replace those negative thought patterns with new positive and realistic thoughts.
First, CBT makes you aware that you have these thoughts. This is the key. You learn to be more aware of what thoughts are continually going around in your head in a negative loop for most of every day making you feel unhappy and unsettled.
Then it teaches you to STOP them, substitute them for ones that are true, wanted and either positive or at least accurate and reasonable – and often to then reason through better ways to solve problems or react. In fact that negative loop thinking often blocks the move to problem solve.
The almost immediate change in your emotion/attitude leads to a change in your behavior which reduces anxiety measurably. That change can help ease your depression, anxiety and certainly anger and tension, and some phobias as well – all leading to a happier, calmer life.
You may need weeks of CBT before you start to feel better but you are likely to see results starting right away if you use the STOP method daily to short circuit the thoughts . This generally will cause you to want to use it more, which will eventually lead to automatically using CBT all throughout the day to counter over-reacting and allowing unwanted thoughts to substantially block your happiness. If you ask clinicians if they like CBT, they will likely tell you they use it themselves automatically many times each day.
-You cannot substitute negative thoughts with untrue “happy” thoughts and positive affirmations.
-Your problem thoughts and the issues they cause will likely return, but when using your CBT skills it will be much easier to control them and get back to realistic ones before both your emotions and actions get out of control.
-CBT cannot “cure” everything, though you may think that from internet searches of it.
-To see results from CBT, you must absolutely commit yourself to the process until it becomes an automatic part of your day. This is a large part of what the current popularity of “Mindfulness” is about – learning to pay attention to how you feel and what thoughts caused those feelings.
-CBT cannot change a problem family or work situation but it can help you cope better.
Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.