CBT Technique: How to Change Automatic Thoughts
Do you ever find yourself reacting negatively?
I hate to admit that I’m my own worst enemy, and will always put myself down even if there’s no reason to.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m a disappointment.”
“Everyone thinks that I’m annoying.”
“I’ll be fired over this little thing.”
I am also guilty of overgeneralization, emotional reasoning and jumping to conclusions. I could go back to my years of trauma for blame, but even though I’m in a much better place (and quite happy), I am conditioned to thinking negatively. It interferes with my self-esteem, confidence and performance.
It’s been hard to change my way of thinking since it affects almost every aspect of my life,
An example: I’m always nervous and scared when it comes to my work evaluations. When my boss compliments me, I am still utterly anxious because I feel that he is noticing my work. Why am I anxious? Because there’s a possibility that he may find a mistake, fire me and I won’t be able to get another job.
I jump to the worst conclusions and don’t even take the genuine compliment to heart.
My automatic thought was a quick and strong reaction that comes through words, images or memories. To help identify my automatic thought, I need to take a step back and figure out why I am currently feeling this way.
What are some questions to help identify automatic thoughts?
- What was going through my mind just before I started to feel this way? Was I anxious previous to this?
- What images or memories do I have in this situation? Have I been fired before?
- What does this mean about me? My life?
- What am I afraid might happen?
- What is the worst that COULD happen?
- What does this mean about how the other person(s) feel(s)/think(s) about me?
- What does this mean about the other people in general?
- Did I break the rules, hurt others, or not do something I should have done? What do I think about myself that I did this or believe I did this?
Some of these questions won’t apply to you, and that’s ok. This is a general guideline on identifying your thoughts associated with your distress. These are here to help you understand your emotional reaction/moods. Different moods can be related to your situation: Depression, Anxiety, Anger, Guilt or Shame.
In my example above, I’m anxious.
My therapist would ask me to associate a percentage towards my mood; I would say that I’m 80% nervous and 90% anxious.
It took me years to figure out how to re-wire my brain, but I am pleased to confirm that I can now stop mid anxious thought to bring down those percentages to at least 40% (Any number lower than 90% is a win in my book!)
Sometimes though, I will still focus on one negative detail of an interaction instead of seeing the whole picture. I feel like most people are guilty of thinking this way – and I’m just here to say that it’s ok! The point is as long as you recognize what you’re doing, you’re one step closer to changing your automatic thoughts. This isn’t something that you can fix overnight. This requires a committed effort to change.
Now when I go into a performance review, I am still a little nervous, but I do accept a compliment even though I am red in the face. I’ve tried to change my perspective as well as trying to visualize the situation beforehand. Preparation has usually helped; when I feel in control of my words, I feel as if I’m being heard not only from others but from my inner voice.
If you’d like to learn more or gain worksheets to outline your thoughts (these have helped me!), I highly suggest the book “Mind Over Mood.”