Dismantling Unhelpful Thoughts

Changing a belief is difficult (that in itself is a huge understatement!). If we believe something to be true and have repeated it to ourselves or heard it often enough and taken it as truth, flipping that belief takes time and effort.

When I was going through depression, changing even one thought at a time seemed more than I could do. Depression is a state of having very low energy and no interest in anything. It is the absence of feeling and of passion. This makes it very hard to motivate yourself to start a new habit and stick with it. When it came to changing unhelpful thought patterns, trying to do it all in my head was too much.

Fortunately, I was introduced to to a tool called a Cognitive Behavioral Thought Record. It didn’t banish my depression, but it did help me start, slowly, changing my thought patterns. It can be a great place to start if you’re having trouble puzzling out your thoughts in your head or feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin.

I’ve used this multiple times, either at home or on the go, and it helped me unhook when I began obsessing about a moment or thought. Use this for anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-doubt, or any other unhelpful belief or thought pattern. Please note this is not a cure (especially for extreme depression or anxiety, which requires professional assistance and, in some cases, medical treatment) but is an aid you can use in conjunction with other methods. It’s simple to use and effective if used consistently.

How do you use it? First, jot down where you are or what triggered the thought you want to challenge. Second, list what emotions you are feeling and note their strengths based on a 1-10 scale. Third, write down the automatic unhelpful thought that runs through your mind, followed by the concrete and objective evidence that backs up that thought. Fourth, list evidence that does not support that thought and, fifth, based on your data, construct a new, more realistic thought. Sixth, again note your feelings and their strength. Don’t be discouraged if the feelings don’t always change in intensity! Thoughts take a while to change, and believing the new, healthy thought can likewise take time.

As with all such exercises, this is most effective when used consistently and frequently over time. I tend to get impatient and want the exercises to work right away, but they usually don’t. It’s like trying to eat healthier. The change doesn’t come immediately. Think of how long you’ve felt depressed, anxious, fearful, or bad about yourself. It will take time to turn the ship around, but I assure you, it’s worth it. You’re worth it, and exercises like the one above only take around 5 minutes to complete. Give it a try and see if it helps you route your thoughts down new paths.

If you want the worksheet for your phone, download the free Thought Diary app! Best of luck. 🙂

What Do You Think?: What has helped you overcome unhelpful thought patterns?

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