Behavioral Experiments in CBT

If we’re having difficulty changing our negative thoughts or modifying core beliefs, behavioral experiments can help. Often new thoughts make sense “intellectually,” but we have trouble believing them deep down. Our habitual negative thoughts and core beliefs are hard to replace until we have evidence to back our up out new thoughts and beliefs.

Behaviour experiments are real life experiments that test new thoughts and beliefs we’re trying to instil in ourselves. These experiments provide evidence and data about our new thoughts and beliefs. And as we gather more and more evidence and data that supports our new thoughts and beliefs, we start believing them more and more, and our old negative thoughts and core beliefs become less pervasive.

Behavioral Experiments in CBT

You can download a Behavioral Experiment Worksheet in PDF or Word format.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Cognitive Fusion and Defusion

Cognitive defusion is a key concept from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). When we practice cognitive defusion, we let go of our thoughts without allowing ourselves to become “fused” with them. Or, if we’re already stuck in our heads and “fused” with our thoughts, cognitive defusion helps us de-fuse. Cognitive defusion is a great antidote for dwelling, ruminating and worrying.

Cognitive Defusion

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

There’s a type of mindfulness based therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy. And an important concept in acceptance and commitment therapy is the idea of cognitive fusion and defusion.

Cognitive fusion describes those times when we’re so tightly stuck to our thoughts that we become fused with them. We can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts and so our thoughts become our reality. And when we’re in a state of cognitive fusion we can feel removed from the world outside our thoughts, and from what we’re doing, and from the people around us, and it can be hard to pay attention to anything outside our head.

The opposite of cognitive fusion is cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion involves taking a step back from what’s going on inside our minds, and detaching ourselves from our thoughts. In this state of defusion we can observe our thoughts without getting caught up in or lost in them. And we can just allow them in and accept them and let them be and let go of them if we want.

One way we can practice cognitive defusion is to label your thoughts. Anytime you notice that you’re starting to become fused with your thoughts, you can simply take a step back from your thoughts by labeling them as thinking, or daydreaming, or worrying, or ruminating or planning—just labeling whatever type of thought you’re having with a one or two word description.

And doing this helps you take a step back from the thought and focus less on the content of your thought and more on just the fact that you’re thinking, or worrying, or daydreaming, or whatever the nature of your thought is. And this makes it less likely that you’ll get sucked in by those thoughts, or carried away by them, or become fused with them.

Or you can say to yourself: I’m just thinking, just worrying. And putting the qualifier just in front of the thought helps take away some of the power of that thought and makes it easier to let go. Or you can label the content of your thought as being “just a thought.” So if you’re thinking, “i can’t do anything right,” you can reframe this as “I’m just having the thought i can’t do anything right.”

Or if you’re thinking “this is going to be terrible” you can reframe that as “I’m just having the thought that this is going to be terrible.” Instead of “,nothing ever goes my way,” “I’m just having the thought that nothing ever goes my way.” And by prefacing our thoughts with the disclaimer that this is just a thought, we reinforce the idea that our thoughts are not facts. And every time we remind ourselves of this we take away some of the power that our thoughts have over us.

Or if you’re having trouble letting go of your thoughts you can imagine yourself writing down each thought on a balloon, and then releasing that balloon up into the air and just allowing that thought to float from your mind as the balloon floats away.

Now sometimes instead of just letting go of our thoughts, it can be helpful to look at the content of our thoughts, and just get a sense of how accurate or how biased that thought may be, and see if there may be a different way of looking at things and thinking about them that’s more helpful to you, which is something we’ll explore in the next video about reframing your thoughts and cognitive restructuring.

This is the final post about thoughts. Next we’ll look at the “B” in CBT: behavior. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Letting Go Of Thoughts

In CBT we modify the content of our thoughts. For example, let’s say automatic negative thoughts A, B and C are having a negative effect on how we’re feeling. We then transform these thoughts into alternative or more balanced thoughts X, Y and Z. And changing the content of our thoughts from A, B and C to X, Y and Z helps us feel better.

But a challenge with CBT is that once we start dwelling, ruminating, or worrying about something, our minds tend to start to race. If we attempt to engage with our thoughts while our minds are racing, it often doesn’t end well. If we try modifying racing thoughts, we often end up just having even more thoughts, many of them negative. And then our minds wind up racing even more.

But there’s an alternative to trying to change the content of our thoughts. Instead, we can change how we relate to our thoughts. And this ties back into when we learned that our Thoughts are not Facts. Because our thoughts aren’t facts, when they’re not needed for whatever we’re doing at the time, we don’t need to pay attention to them. We can just let these thoughts go.

If we’re cooking dinner and start worrying about work, we can let those thoughts go. If we’re watching TV and start dwelling on an argument we had, we can just let those thoughts go. Once we learn to acknowledge our automatic negative thoughts and just let them go, they lose their power over how we feel. They become like mental background noise. They come in one ear, and go right out the other, before they have a chance to negatively affect our moods.

Letting Go Of Thoughts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

We have tens of thousands of thoughts a day but most of them barely register. And the ones that we do notice often aren’t even related to anything we’re doing at the time. Usually the best way to deal with automatic negative thoughts is to not give them your attention in the first place.

They’re like a clickbait headline that looks like it’s gonna be really interesting, but once you click there’s really nothing worth seeing and the best course of action is to just not click on them in the first place. But sometimes we can’t resist and we click anyway. And then we find ourselves going down that rabbit hole and keep clicking on another and another and another, at which point it can take quite a bit of effort to pull ourselves back out.

And the same is true once we start following our automatic negative thoughts. A big part of mindfulness is about learning to let go of these types of thoughts and refocus our attention in the present moment. But that’s often easier said than done for a couple of reasons.

First we tend to believe that if we have a thought it’s somehow interesting or important and something we should pay attention to, so we don’t want to just let it go. But of our tens of thousands of thoughts every day, most of them are just noise in our head, mindless distractions that don’t need our attention at all. And once we come to terms with this it’s a lot easier to just allow these thoughts to pass from our mind without even thinking about them.

But secondly, the thoughts that we tend to notice are the ones that provoke an emotional reaction. And these are not as easy to simply let pass from our minds, because as we’ve seen once our thoughts and emotions start interacting together, they feed into and reinforce each other. And as a result thoughts that carry some emotional weight are much more difficult to just let go, as the emotion acts as a kind of magnet, and keeps pulling these thoughts back into our head.

One way to let go of thoughts is to treat them as if they were just sounds going on in the background. We generally don’t pay attention to these sounds or think about them very much, and we just allow them to pass in one ear and right out the other. And we can do the same sort of thing with our thoughts, not give them any undue attention and think about them or try to figure out what they mean, and just treat them like mental noise in the background allow them to pass into our mind and then right out again.

Another metaphor for this way of relating to our thoughts is to simply treat our thoughts as if they were clouds passing through the sky, noticing as a cloud or a thought passes into our field of awareness, sticks around for a while, and then continues to float through the sky or through our mind until it passes away.

Or sitting back and observing our thoughts as if we were at the movies and watching our thoughts being projected on the screen in front of us, not actively participating or getting caught up in the action on the screen that is our thoughts, and just sitting back and watching them as they unfold.

But often it’s not that easy to just sit back and watch our thoughts, and in the next video we’ll learn some additional strategies and techniques we can use to help us step back from our thoughts and let them go called cognitive defusion.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Thought Record Tips and Troubleshooting

The thought record can be challenging to complete at first. The video below looks at some of the typical difficulties we face when doing thought records and how we can deal with them, as well as some tips to make the thought record more effective.

Thought Record Tips and Troubleshooting

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Modifying Core Beliefs in CBT

Now that we’ve learned what core beliefs are, the video below describes how we can start modifying and changing our core beliefs.

Changing Negative Core Beliefs in CBT

In the next couple of posts we’ll look at some other ways we can respond to our negative thoughts. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

The Role of Core Beliefs in CBT

Sometimes completing thought records and consistently practicing cognitive restructuring is enough to change our habitual negative ways of thinking. But if we find the same automatic negative thoughts arising again and again, or keep falling back into old patterns whenever we start going through a difficult time, then it’s helpful to look at the core beliefs that are behind our thoughts and behavior.

Core beliefs in CBT are our longstanding and deeply held beliefs:

  • About ourselves
  • About the world we live in
  • About other people
  • About the future
They give rise to our thoughts and behavior. In this video we’ll learn all about core beliefs and how to identify our core beliefs. In the next post we’ll look at how we can start to modify our core beliefs.

Core Beliefs in CBT

If you’d like to explore your core beliefs, you can download the Core Beliefs Worksheet in PDF or Word format. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

The Thought Record or Thought Diary in CBT

The most effective way to practice cognitive restructuring is to complete a thought record or thought diary. The thought record is one of the foundational tools of CBT. In the thought record we write down:

  • Our automatic negative thoughts
  • The situations that triggered them
  • The moods, emotions, feelings, and physical symptoms or sensations we experience in response.

Then we identify the automatic negative thought most responsible for how we feel, and use cognitive restructuring to come up with alternative and more balanced thoughts. The thought record is the main tool we use in CBT to change the way we think. It helps us see things from a different perspective, and as a result, change the way we feel.

The Thought Record in CBT

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

The thought record or thought diary is one of the most important tools we use in cbt. It helps us change our negative thinking by challenging and disputing our automatic negative thoughts.

Now the reason we want to do this stems from the basic premise of cbt that our thoughts are one of the main contributing factors to how we feel, so our moods and emotions are determined to a large extent by the thoughts we have in response to various experiences or situations we find ourselves in. If we’re feeling sad or anxious or angry about something, that’s usually the result of thoughts we had in response to some activating event or situation.

And the moods emotions and feelings we experience will be different depending on our thoughts. The tagline of cbt is change the way we think and we change the way we feel, and the thought record or diary is the most effective tool we have to help us do that. By using a thought record we can modify our thoughts to make them less negatively biased. And when we do this our moods emotions and feelings generally improve.

The thought record that’s on the screen now is from mind over mood, one of the most popular cbt workbooks, so you might be familiar with it. The one we’re going to use has the same sections, just organized in a format i find easier to write in. But the content in both is the same so it doesn’t matter which one you use, and i’ll post a link in the description where you can download a copy of both versions.

The first part of a thought record involves the abcs which i talk about in more detail in another video,and you can find all of my cbt videos organized together into a free course on my new website so please check that out from the link in the description.

But to summarize, abc refers to the sequence that starts with an activating event or trigger; which is followed by beliefs, which are the automatic thoughts that are triggered by the activating event. And these thoughts lead to a consequence, which are the feelings and emotions we’re left with as a result of our thoughts.

So we start by writing down the activating event that triggered the abc sequence, which is the situation we found ourselves in when we noticed a negative change in our mood—i got an email from my boss asking me to go see him first thing in the morning. I was getting ready to go out to a party.

I saw a picture on instagram of some of my friends having a good time without me—and then we write down the beliefs or automatic thoughts that were triggered by this situation: what did i do? What if i’m in trouble? What if i lose my job? I just don’t feel like doing anything i really want to stay home. My life’s so boring i’m not going to have anything to say to anyone. I’m such a loser. I hate having to make small talk all night i never know what to say. What if i embarrass myself? Why wasn’t i invited, i thought we were friends? Don’t they like me anymore? Did i do something to upset them?

Sometimes it’s easy to identify our thoughts, but other times they may not be so clear, so if you’re having trouble identifying your automatic negative thoughts, here are some prompts that can help:

What was going through my mind just before i started to feel this way?

What images or memories does this bring up?

What’s so bad about this?

Why am i feeling this way?

What am i afraid will happen?

What does this mean about me or my life or my future?

What does this mean about the world or about other people or about what others think of me?

Now in the next section, we write down the consequences, which are the moods emotions and feelings we experienced. But sometimes it’s easier to start with our moods and then identify the thoughts associated with those moods after. And the mind over mood worksheet reverses the order and does start with moods followed by automatic thoughts, so if you find that way easier to work with, it doesn’t matter what order you do them in as long as you end up completing both sections.

And now we record our moods and how we feel as a result of a plus b. Our feelings can generally be described with single words, i feel sad, anxious, hurt, angry; not, i feel like they should have invited me, because that’s just a way of expressing a thought by prefacing it with the words “i feel like” and it’s not really a feeling but a thought, so anxious, worried, nervous. Or sad, depressed, anxious, scared. Or hurt, angry, betrayed, worried, lonely, sad.

And often our moods and emotions are accompanied by body sensations, so we can add these as well if we’re experiencing them: a lump in my throat; tightness in my chest; butterflies in my stomach; lightheadedness; starting to feel hot.

And then we rate the intensity of each feeling on a scale from zero to a hundred,the higher the number the more intense the emotion or physical sensation.

So now we look back at the list of beliefs or thoughts that we wrote down in order to come up with our hot thought, the hot thought is the automatic thought that’s most closely connected to our moods or feelings or physical sensations.

So if we look over our list of moods emotions and feelings the strongest feeling or primary emotion is sadness. So now we go through the automatic thoughts we identified to try to figure out which one of these thoughts is most responsible for our feeling of sadness. Sometimes it might be obvious what the primary thought responsible for an emotion is, but other times it’s not that clear, so we may need to go through all of the automatic thoughts we recorded and ask ourselves for each one, how much does this thought alone make me feel the primary emotion that i had in this situation?

So the thoughts, i just don’t feel like doing anything, and i really want to stay home, well they only make me feel a little bit sad, so they’re not the hot thought.

My life’s so boring i’m not gonna have anything to say, well that makes me pretty sad, but it also makes me anxious. I’m such a loser, well that thought makes me really sad, so this may be the hot thought. I hate having to make small talk all night, i never know what to say; and what if i embarrass myself, they make me a little sad, but mainly they make me anxious, so they’re not the hot thought.

So it looks like in this situation the hot thought most responsible for my feeling of sadness is, i’m such a loser, but we’ll also use the thought, my life’s so boring i’m not gonna have anything to say, as an example later on.

So now we circle or underline this hot thought that’s most associated with the primary mood emotion or feeling that we had. And then we rate on a scale from zero to a hundred how strongly we believe this hot thought. So that’s the abc part now we move on to the second section which is part d for dispute.

Since the hot thought is the main contributing factor to our moods emotions and how we feel, if we can modify this thought to make it less negative, then we should notice a corresponding change in our moods, emotions and feelings, which will also become less negative. So to do this we dispute the hot thought we just identified.

And i talk about the reasons we can dispute our thoughts in another video, but basically our thoughts are not facts. They are subjective interpretations of the world and other people and the situations we find ourselves in. So we’re not trying to change the facts, we’re just trying to see things in a different ligh,t one that doesn’t have such a negative impact on how we feel.

So when we dispute our hot thoughts we’re not denying reality we’re, just looking at the evidence to evaluate how accurate our hot thoughts are. And then if they’re not completely accurate, we modify them to make them better reflect reality. And when we do this we generally notice an improvement in our moods.

So the way we do this in the thought diary involves the two column technique. So in one column we write down all of the evidence we can come up with that supports our hot thought. And in the other column we write down all of the evidence we can come up with that doesn’t support our hot thought. So one side is the evidence that our hot thought is true, and the other side is the evidence that our hot thought may not be true.

So if our hot thought is, i’m a loser, maybe on the evidence that supports our hot thought side we come up with things like, i always feel awkward around other people, i never have anything interesting to say to anyone, i’m too shy, i’m not good at meeting people, i don’t have that many friends.

And then on the evidence that doesn’t support our hot thought side we come up with things like, i’m mainly just shy in groups or with strangers, i’ve had a group of close friends for years, if i were such a loser i wouldn’t have even been invited to the party, i’m good at lots of things that don’t involve social situations, i’m a loser is an example of the cognitive distortion labeling (if you’re not sure what cognitive distortions are i have a video all about cognitive distortions).

And if the hot thought is my life’s so boring i never have anything to say to anyone, maybe we come up with things like, i’m really quiet in groups and around people i don’t know, i always feel awkward at parties, i never know what to say, i get nervous and say embarrassing things, i spend most of the time looking at my phone hoping nobody talks to me.

Once i get to know someone i usually do enjoy talking to them; a thought that uses the word never is an over-generalization, which is a type of cognitive distortion, and so it’s not an accurate representation of reality; if it’s a topic i’m interested in i often do have a lot to contribute; if someone’s really friendly and outgoing i do find it easy to talk to them, i’m just not that good at initiating conversations.

And it’s usually more difficult to come up with evidence that doesn’t support our hot thoughts, and my video on cognitive restructuring has a number of questions you can use as prompts to help you come up with evidence that doesn’t support your hot thought.

And then we consider all of the evidence we’ve collected. And if we find the evidence does not support our hot thought, we write down alternative thoughts or explanations or ways of looking at things that better fit the evidence.

So for example if our hot thought was i’m a loser, we’ll probably find that the evidence doesn’t actually support that, and instead we might come up with alternative thoughts like, i find socializing hard, i’m not that comfortable around other people, i wish i were more outgoing. And these thoughts, while not particularly positive, aren’t nearly as negative or devastating to our mood as a thought like i’m a loser.

If we find the evidence partially supports our hot thought, then we come up with a more balanced thought or way of looking at things that takes into account both the evidence for and against the hot thought.

So if our hot thought is, my life’s so boring i never have anything to say to anyone, we might come up with a more balanced thought like, i feel like i never have anything interesting to say, but once i start talking to people it usually goes okay; or i never talk a lot at parties, but people seem to like that i’m a good listener. And again these thoughts aren’t necessarily positive, but they’re not as negative as our hot thought, so they don’t have such a negative impact on our mood.

And then we rate how strongly we believe these new alternative or balanced thoughts. And then we re-rate how strongly we believe our hot thought now. And finally we record how we’re feeling now and re-rate the intensity of our original moods emotions and feelings, as well as write down any new emotions or feelings we’re having and rate their intensity.

So once you’ve gone through all of these steps you’ll probably find that your original negative moods emotions and feelings are at least a little less intense. And perhaps you’ve noticed some additional emotions or feelings that aren’t as negative now.

One thing to keep in mind is just because you’re still having some negative moods feelings or emotions doesn’t mean the thought diary didn’t help. The main thing is that you’re able to notice at least some reduction in intensity of your negative mood feelings or emotions. So if you originally rated your level of sadness as 90 out of 100m and now it’s down to 75m well 75 out of 100 means you’re still feeling really sad, but it’s an improvement over feeling sadness at a level of 90 out of 100. And even a small improvement in how we’re feeling often leads to more change in a positive direction.

And as we start to use thought records a couple of things happen. First the automatic negative thoughts that we tend to tell ourselves a lot begin to come up less frequently, and instead the alternative or more balanced thoughts arise in their place, without us having to go through the thought record process.

And then the more we use thought records, the more instinctively our minds start to recognize our automatic negative thoughts, and reframe them into alternative and more balanced thoughts automatically.

There are a couple of different formats of the thought record you can download below. The first is based on Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky. The second is based on the thought diary from the Centre for Clinical Interventions. For this format there is a full two-page thought record, a condensed one-page version, and a filled out example of a completed thought record:

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Cognitive Restructuring and Reframing Thoughts in CBT

In CBT we use a technique called cognitive restructuring to modify our automatic negative thoughts and cognitive distortions to make them better reflect reality. With cognitive restructuring we’re not trying to engage in “positive thinking.” Positive thinking isn’t helpful because it doesn’t reflect reality either. Instead, cognitive restructuring involves reframing our negatively biased thoughts in order to see things from a more balanced perspective.

When we modify our thoughts with cognitive restructuring, we end up with alternate ways of looking at things that:

  • More accurately describe the situations we find ourselves in
  • We can believe because they make sense to us and aren’t just trying to force positive thinking
  • Improve our moods and how we feel because they’re not negatively biased or distorted

Cognitive Restructuring and Reframing Thoughts in CBT

Cognitive restructuring is one of the most important CBT techniques because it enables us to change the way we think, which, as we’ve discussed, is one of the keys to changing the way we feel. If you’d like to practice cognitive restructuring, you’ll find the questions from the video in the Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet (PDF):

In the next post we’ll look at the thought record, which guides us through the process of cognitive restructuring in detail. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Cognitive Distortions in CBT

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and negatively biased patterns of thinking that distort reality. They lead us to perceive or evaluate situations and experiences inaccurately. A lot of our automatic negative thoughts are also cognitive distortions.

The video below explains the following cognitive distortions, along with suggestions for how to break each pattern: All or Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filter, Discounting the Positive, Jumping to Conclusions (Mind Reading and Fortune Telling), Magnification and Minimization, Catastrophizing, Emotional Reasoning, “Should” Statements, Labeling, and Personalization and Blame.

Cognitive Distortions in CBT

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and negatively biased thought patterns that lead us to perceive reality inaccurately. They’re a way our minds have of convincing ourselves to believe things that aren’t really true. They show up all the time in our automatic negative thoughts, and they’re significant because our thoughts have such a big influence over how we feel and how we act. And when we treat these cognitive distortions as if they were facts, we end up feeling and acting based on faulty assumptions, usually in ways that contribute to things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, and countless other issues.

As we learn to identify cognitive disorders in our thought patterns, we become better at recognizing when and how our minds are leading us astray, which helps us see the ways in which our thoughts aren’t accurate; and makes it easier to reframe our thoughts and think about things in ways that are less likely to have a negative impact on our mood or mental health, and can help us start feeling better. So now let’s look at some of the most common types of cognitive distortions.

When we engage in all or nothing thinking we see things as black or white with no shades of gray in between. Something or someone is either all good or all bad. If we don’t do everything right we’re a complete failure. One bad thing happens and our whole day is ruined. Someone makes a mistake or disappoints us and they’re irredeemable.

All or nothing thinking is a hallmark of perfectionism. It leads to unrealistic standards for ourselves and others, which can negatively affect our motivation and set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. If you find yourself engaging in all or nothing thinking, try to start recognizing and acknowledging to yourself that things are rarely simply black or white, and start looking for the shades of grey in between.

Overgeneralization is when we see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of failure or defeat. You’re making dinner and you burn something and you think, i always ruin everything, i never do anything right. You’re in a rush to get somewhere and hit a red light and think, nothing ever goes my way.

Overgeneralizations are often stated in terms of always, never or nothing. If you find yourself overgeneralizing, look for exceptions, and try replacing words like always never or nothing with words like sometimes or some things. And this can help you see that one negative event doesn’t define everything, and helps make your thinking less negatively biased and more accurately reflect reality.

Mental filter refers to filtering out positives and dwelling on negatives. A mental filter is like one drop of ink that discolors a whole glass of clear water: that single drop of something negative colors everything. We pick one negative detail and dwell on it exclusively.

You get lots of positive feedback from your boss with one suggestion about how you could improve, and your takeaway is that you’re no good at your job, and you dwell on that one comment all day. You make a YouTube video that gets twenty positive comments and one person says how much they hate it, and you’re so discouraged you never want to make another video again. If you find yourself operating with a mental filter, learn to start asking yourself if there are any positives or even neutral things about the situation you’re overlooking, and then adjust your filter to let those aspects through as well.

Discounting the positive is similar to a mental filter, but instead of filtering out anything positive, we dismiss it and tell ourselves it doesn’t really count. We get a compliment or some praise and tell ourselves, well that doesn’t really count they’re just trying to be nice to me. Or we succeed at something, but it doesn’t really count because we tell ourselves anyone could do that, i just got lucky.

If you find yourself discounting the positive, take a moment to ask yourself, why doesn’t that count, what reasons do i have to just dismiss that? And most of the time we won’t be able to come up with a good answer. Which makes it harder to discount everything positive. And we can start giving ourselves at least a little credit when things go well. And there’s an exercise called three good things that i talk about in my video on depression that can help you stop discounting the positive, and you’ll find a time stamp link to that exercise in the description and pinned comment.

Jumping to conclusions involves interpreting things negatively without any facts to support our conclusions. When we mind read we make assumptions about what someone’s thinking based on their behavior without confirming with them what they’re actually thinking. If our partner is being quieter than usual we assume it’s because they’re upset with us. If we text a friend and they don’t reply fast enough we assume it’s because we’re not important to them or they don’t like us anymore.

We make these assumptions about what’s going through other people’s minds based on no conclusive evidence, it’s just our interpretation of their behavior, usually mixed in with projecting our own emotions into the situation. We’re feeling insecure about a relationship or friendship, and so we assume that their behavior confirms what we’re feeling and that they’re upset with us.

With fortune telling we predict the future, and that things are going to go badly, without any real evidence to back up the prediction. Again these predictions say more about how we’re feeling ourselves than they do about the actual reality of the situation. Fortune telling is a hallmark of the worrying that comes with anxiety or the hopelessness of depression.

If we find ourselves jumping to conclusions the best thing we can do is to simply ask ourselves, what are the facts of this situation what actual evidence do we have to support this conclusion? Is there any way to interpret the evidence to support alternate conclusions? Or is there any evidence we’re overlooking that suggests a different conclusion? And the goal isn’t to try to predict the right conclusion, but to recognize that there are lots of possible outcomes and we just don’t have enough information yet to know which one is going to come true. And so any conclusion we draw is going to involve jumping to conclusions.

With magnification and minimization we give greater weight to our perceived weaknesses and failures and to the strengths and success of others; and we give less weight to our own perceived strengths and success. It’s like looking through binoculars from each end. We look at our weaknesses and failures through the magnifying side of the binoculars, making them seem bigger and more significant than they actually are.

And then we reverse the binoculars when looking at our own positive attributes and successes, making them seem smaller and less significant than they actually are. And if you find yourself engaging in magnification or minimization, try imagining a friend or loved one in your shoes and see how you’d regard their qualities or results, and then see if you can’t be as generous to yourself in your assessment as you would be to someone else that you care about.

Catastrophizing is related to jumping to conclusions and magnification, and it’s typically what we do when we worry. We’re predicting the future and jumping to the worst possible conclusion no matter how unlikely it is. And we’re magnifying the consequences of this outcome and imagining it’ll be unbearable.

Catastrophizing often unfolds as a series of what-ifs: what if i made a mistake what if my boss finds out? What if i get fired what if i can’t find another job? What if i can’t pay my rent? And if you find yourself catastrophizing try asking yourself the following questions: you’ve already been asking yourself what’s the worst case scenario. So make sure to also ask yourself what’s the best case scenario? And then what’s the most likely scenario? And this helps you get a more balanced perspective and can help prevent you from automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

And then ask yourself, if the worst case scenario did happen, how would i be able to cope with it? How have i coped with similar situations in the past? And this can help limit magnification of the consequences that so often goes along with catastrophization.

When we use emotional reasoning, we think the way we feel reflects reality. So we view ourselves and our situations based on how we feel, rather than on any external evidence. I feel this way therefore it must be true.

If we feel like an idiot that means we are idiots. If we feel anxious we know something bad is about to happen. If we feel depressed and hopeless we convince ourselves this means there is no hope. Or we feel angry so that means we must be being treated unfairly.

But the world doesn’t revolve around how we feel, and if we find ourselves engaging in emotional reasoning, we need to remind ourselves that just because we feel a certain way about something, doesn’t make it true and not to confuse feelings with facts.

The type of should statements we’re referring to here are the arbitrary rules we set for ourselves and others when we tell ourselves that things should be a certain way. I should make everyone happy. I shouldn’t make any mistakes. People should always be on time. When we use should statements we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. When the should statements are directed towards ourselves we set ourselves up for guilt disappointment and frustration, and when we apply should statements to others we can feel let down disappointed or angry.

Often we try using should statements for motivation: i should go to the gym more often; i should stop eating junk food. But presenting these as shoulds can drain our motivation when we fail at something we think we should do, because we feel so bad about it. And should statements can make us rebel, because nobody likes to be told what they should and shouldn’t do, even if we’re the ones telling ourselves what we should do.

If you find yourself engaging in should statements, try rephrasing them with less judgmental terms like I’d like to, or I’ll do my best, or it would be nice if. That way we’re still acknowledging to ourselves what we’d like to do, or how we’d like other people to act, but we don’t have to feel guilty if we don’t, or as angry when people don’t behave the way we think they should.

Labeling is a form of all or nothing thinking and overgeneralization where we judge and label ourselves or someone else, usually in a very negative way, based on a single event or behavior, or attribute that doesn’t really define who we or they are. We knock our coffee off the table and it spills and we label ourselves an idiot. We try to make plans with friends and no one’s available and we label ourselves a loser. When someone has to reschedule a meeting and we label them a selfish jerk. Or they make a mistake at work and we label them useless.

When we use labels we don’t take context into account we don’t consider anything beyond what’s in front of us at this moment. We’re just reflexively assigning a negative label and using it to define the totality of ourselves or someone else. When we apply these labels to ourselves it hurts our confidence and self-esteem and can leave us feeling depressed. And when we apply them to other people it increases hostility and leaves little room for communication. The antidote to labeling is to recognize that one act isn’t defining: just because i made a mistake doesn’t make me an idiot; if someone disappoints us it doesn’t automatically make them a selfish jerk.

Personalization involves holding ourselves personally responsible for a situation that’s not entirely under our control. We take total responsibility for an external event that occurs and ignore any other important factors. As a consequence we end up completely blaming ourselves when something goes wrong, even when we may be only partially responsible, or not responsible at all for the results. Our kid gets sick and we blame ourselves for letting them sleep over at their friend’s house. We’re late for dinner because our partner isn’t ready on time, and we blame ourselves for not making sure they left work earlier.

Or instead of personalization, we can blame other people for things that aren’t totally their fault while overlooking our own contributions to the situation. If you’d reminded me about dinner tonight i would have been ready on time. If you weren’t always working all the time i never would have cheated on you. If you find yourself engaging in personalization and blame, take a moment to ask yourself if there are any other factors you’re overlooking that contributed to the outcome. And recognize that just because you have some responsibility for how something turned out, you’re almost never going to be in a position where you’re 100 to blame.

And if you have trouble accepting that it’s not entirely your fault, you can try using a responsibility pie, where you write down all of the factors that may have contributed to a situation, and then make a pie chart assigning a share of responsibility to each of these factors to help illustrate how you’re not fully responsible for the way things turned out.

And for some more tips on how to combat cognitive distortions check out my video on cognitive restructuring and reframing your thoughts and please like and subscribe and check out my other videos for more tips on how to manage negative thinking.

Since cognitive distortions are negatively biased, they negatively affect our moods and how we feel. Cognitive distortions are a hallmark of issues such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and anger.

Learning to recognize cognitive distortions is important in CBT. Cognitive distortions are inaccurate in well-defined ways. As a result, they don’t take as much effort to modify as some thoughts do. We can treat all thoughts that fall into the same category of cognitive distortion in a similar fashion. And this makes it easier to reframe these thoughts in ways that help us feel better.

If you’d like to explore how you use cognitive distortions in your own thinking, the Centre for Clinical Interventions has a nice PDF worksheet (they refer to cognitive distortions as “Unhelpful Thinking Styles”). If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.

Automatic Negative Thoughts in CBT

We constantly have all sorts of thoughts automatically popping into our heads. In CBT, it’s our automatic negative thoughts (sometimes referred to as ANTs) that we’re most concerned with. Automatic negative thoughts play a huge role in both initiating and maintaining our negative moods. And they often set off vicious cycles and downward spirals that are extremely difficult to break out of. If we struggle with depression, anxiety, or any number of mental health issues, we can experience an endless barrage of automatic negative thoughts all day long.

Automatic Negative Thoughts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

A lot of our thoughts are automatic. A thought just pops into our head without us even thinking about it. Some of our automatic thoughts can be pleasant or neutral, but more often than not they tend to be negative.

Automatic negative thoughts have a strong effect on our mood and how we’re feeling, and learning how to respond to our automatic negative thoughts in ways that help us feel better is an important part of mindfulness based cognitive therapy. So now we’re gonna look at some common automatic negative thoughts that people have that tend to be associated with depression, anxiety and anger.

When we’re feeling depressed we tend to have very negative thoughts. And these thoughts center around three themes: negative thoughts about ourselves, negative thoughts about the world, and negative thoughts about the future. Examples of automatic negative thoughts about ourselves are things such as: I’m such a loser. I’m no good. I keep disappointing everyone. What’s wrong with me? I can’t do anything right. I’m a failure. I feel so helpless. Nobody even cares about me.

And automatic negative thoughts about the world, which is just a general sort of negativity about everything: life is so unfair. Things should be easier. The whole world’s falling apart. Everything’s so stupid. Life stinks.

And automatic negative thoughts about the future: things are never gonna work out for me. There’s nothing i can do about it. I’m always going to feel this way. I’m never going to be happy. There’s no point in trying anymore. It’ll never get any better.

And when we’re feeling anxious we tend to have thoughts that overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen. And we overestimate the severity of what will happen. And we underestimate our ability to cope with things.

And so we have automatic negative thoughts about threats and danger: oh no! What’s happening? This is terrible.

And automatic negative thoughts about our ability to cope with things: i can’t handle this. I’m never gonna be able to do this. People are gonna wonder what’s wrong with me. This is just too much. What am i gonna do? I should just quit now.

And all sorts of what-ifs which are probably the most common types of thoughts people have when they’re feeling anxious or worried what if this happens what if that happens what if what if what if

And when we’re feeling anxious, our thoughts are too a future-oriented, and we end up spending a lot of time and energy worrying about how things might be in the future. And even though these things haven’t occurred yet and may never occur, we tend to respond as if they’ve already happened, or that they’re inevitable. And so we wind up suffering the consequences right now. And even if the things we’re dreading never actually occur, we’ve already made ourselves pay the price and suffer over them whether they actually happen or not.

Our automatic negative thoughts that are associated with anger are things around the need for fairness and respect; becoming aggravated, frustrated or losing patience; violations of rules; and revenge.

This is so unfair. Why does this keep happening to me? I can’t stand this anymore. What’s wrong with him? You can’t treat people that way. He’ll pay for that!

And in the next couple of videos we’ll learn how we can improve our mood and help ourselves feel better by managing our automatic negative thoughts through cognitive diffusion and letting go of thoughts and with cognitive restructuring.

The first step towards reducing both the frequency of our automatic negative thoughts, and how detrimental they are, is to learn to recognize and record these automatic negative thoughts when they arise. This is part of what we do in the CBT Interrelationships worksheet from the first post in this course. In addition to completing this worksheet, it’s good practice when learning CBT to just pay attention for and write down automatic negative thoughts whenever they come up.

The next step is to assess the accuracy of these ANTs. Then we can reframe our thoughts to look at things from different perspectives that don’t have such a negative impact on our moods. And as a result, we start feeling better. We’ll look at how we can do this in the next few posts. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.