Week 3 of the Pessimist to Semi-Optimist Project
Shortly after returning to work after a leave of absence due to my father’s passing, I found myself doing “water cooler” talk with two female colleagues when suddenly the conversation went like this:
First female: Gosh, I hate people with acne!
Second female: Wow, are you talking about her? (points at my face)
First female: Not really, but acne really disgusts me!
Me: (silence – not sure what to say, after months of not sleeping properly due to grieving, I knew my face was an acne mess)
The initial thought after this encounter was – people don’t like me anymore! I took a second to process what just happened and since I knew these two people really well, I knew they didn’t hate me, but their words triggered some initial doubt.
Brain-xercise Week 3: Thought Record
One tool used in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is the “thought record”which I’ve been asked to use during every CBT session I’ve attended so far. It’s aim is to help one detach emotionally from a situation by putting a thought on trial with evidence for and against the thought before coming to a conclusion. It helps to pretend that the situation is happening to someone else and you are the person giving advice on what they should do.
Let’s go through the steps with the acne example:
- Situation – write down the situation at hand
- Thoughts and depression rating – go through all the thoughts that came to mind and chose the one “hot thought” that made you feel really bad or depressed. The thoughts can be ranked from 0 (happy) to 100 (very depressed) to help identify the “hot thought” more easily.
- Evidence for the hot thought – these are things that validate the thought
- Evidence against the hot thought – things that go against the thought
- Alternatives/Balanced thoughts – after going through the evidence for/against exercise, an assessment of the situation through a jury’s lens.
- Action steps for improvement and depression rating – what would be most helpful for this situation and put a depression rating for imagined aftermath of action
Sometimes the alternative thought may not always be positive. For example, instead of having more evidence against, there is more evidence that my friends really don’t like me. Then the alternative thoughts and action steps would look like this: Friends really don’t like me. They don’t make me feel good. I could distance myself away from them or break up the friendship (would have to think about pro/cons). My depression rating would decrease because I would not be around these negative people.
Often when people say stuff it’s a reflection of what they are going through and they aren’t really thinking. You have no control over what is happening in their life and can only control yourself. Have empathy and compassion, but remember you need to be well and in a good place before you can support anyone else.
Semi-optimistic thoughts: As you grow older, you will start caring less about what people think about you because you will learn that people come and go in your life, regardless of how much you put into a relationship. Instead of worrying about people, spend time with yourself doing things that life your spirits. If you respect and love yourself, you will be strong enough to survive anything.
After using these thought records multiple times, you will get used to re-framing automatically. Admittedly, if you dwell too much on thinking about evidence or creating alternative/balance thoughts, you could get stuck in a rut and spend all your time analyzing the situation.
Just because you have a negative thought, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. If there is a real issue, by dealing with if you will protect yourself from creating more anxiety or becoming more depressed. These thought records are a lot of work to do for each negative thought you may encounter. It is not a perfect science and very subjective to the person thinking this thorough. You have to believe that re-framing your thoughts is going to work, or else it won’t. The whole point of CBT is to rationalize your thoughts in order to change your behaviors and associated emotions. I believe CBT does work, but it takes time to re-train your brain!
Song I’m listening to: “Stronger” by Britney Spears
Stronger than yesterday
Now it’s nothing but my way
My loneliness ain’t killing me no more
I, I’m stronger