We have all heard of journals and perhaps, at some point, had our own, but not all of us may know that they can be used as a very effective form of therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of therapy that helps us understand how our thoughts influence our behaviors, and thought logs are a tool to help us understand our negative thoughts. Many times, our subconscious, automatic negative thoughts lead us to have incorrect negative beliefs about ourselves that are not necessarily true. Thought logs are a great way to bring up what negative thoughts we can work on changing.
Many people have recurring automatic negative thoughts that they might not even notice. Some may include, “I am unattractive and will never have the body I want”, “I’m not that good at anything and will not ever be able to move up in my career” or “People don’t like me because there is something wrong with me.” Many, if not all, of these thoughts have no basis in actual reality and hinder us for going for the things we really want.
Many of these false beliefs come from past trauma. Maybe something went wrong in a work meeting years ago because we were not prepared, or someone did not like us in middle school. Going forward, we assume this will happen again and again. The truth is, it may not go badly at all going forward!
Thought records are a way to reframe these automatic negative thoughts. Once you get the hang of doing thought logs, you can even go through the process in your head when you feel anxiety about something. Here is the list of things you should be writing in your thought log as you work through your feelings. What situation triggered the thought? What do you feel? How strong is the feeling today? What thoughts are you having that are unhelpful? Do you have facts that support your unhelpful thoughts? What evidence do you have against the unhelpful thought? What is a more realistic perspective? What do you feel at the end of your evaluation?
For example, you have a big event coming up, and you don’t think you will look good enough. You might feel self-conscious and be beating yourself up about it. This might be making you very anxious and stressed about the event.
The unhelpful thought is “I don’t look good enough”. You have no evidence to support the unhelpful thought, though. You do have evidence that you’ve been taking care of yourself and staying active. You’ve been eating healthy. Everyone who cares about you thinks you look great. There is a dress in your closet that you’ve been waiting for the chance to wear. You’re going to have a fun time at the event and see your friends and family there. At the end of this exercise you’ve reframed your state of mind. You might feel calmer, and much less anxious. In fact, you look forward to going!
That is just an example, the thought log can work on work challenges, and all sorts of personal struggles. Not every thought log is life-changing but doing them consistently helps you start to automatically reframe your negative thoughts. That can be quite revolutionary! So, go on and dust off that old journal you have not touched in a while and try this. There are various worksheets available that can help you get in the habit of doing this as well. There are worksheets you can use like the one on this page: http://teenagestressprevention.blogspot.com/2012/03/thought-record-sheet.html