Challenging your thoughts isn’t something you should do in your head, as this can get messy and confusing. The best way is to write it down. To help you through the process, we suggest using a Thought Diary.
This helps you work through the challenging process step by step, on paper, making everything clearer and more helpful for you. The goal of working through a Thought Diary is to develop healthy and balanced beliefs. Start by thinking of a recent situation when you felt unhappy or distressed. You will need to practice challenging your thoughts many times before the process becomes easier and more automatic. Here are some guidelines on how to complete a Thought Diary:
Guidelines for Completing a Thought Diary
- Identify the ‘A’ or Activating Event. This may include an actual event or situation, a thought, a mental picture or a physical trigger.
- Identify the ‘C’ or Consequences. Ask yourself: “What emotion(s) was I feeling?” There may be a few. Choose the feeling that most closely represents the emotion you actually felt at the time and underline it. Rate the intensity of this emotion between 0 and 100. The higher the number the more intense the emotion. What actions/behaviours did you engage in? What physical sensations did you experience?
- Identify the ‘B’ or the Beliefs. Ask yourself: “What was I thinking? What was I saying to myself? What was going through my head at the time?”
- Identify the original thought. Choose the most distressing thought that is most closely connected to your emotion you underlined in Step 2. Don’t try to challenge all your unhelpful thoughts and beliefs at once. Take them on one by one. Underline your original thought and rate how much you believe this thought, between 0 and 100.
- Identify any unhelpful thinking styles that might be in operation, such as black and white thinking, catastrophizing & irrational thoughts.
- Detective work. Referring to the original thought, ask yourself: “What is the evidence for and against my original thought?”
- Challenge your Thoughts through Disputation. Ask youself questions such as: “How might someone else might view the situation? How else could I view the situation?”
- Develop balanced and helpful thoughts. After looking at all the evidence for and against your original thought, and having considered the disputation questions, replace the original thought with helpful, balanced thought(s).
- Re-rate the intensity of the emotion that you underlined in Step 2, between 0 and 100.
- Re-rate the strength of your original original thought, between 0 and 100.