We have seen earlier that thoughts affect our emotions, which in turn can affect us physically, which in turn can affect our thoughts. Our physical, emotional, and mental bodies are completely interconnected; doing something to one kosha affects all the others. We can call the process “connecting the dots.” If we can interrupt these connections, we can stop the avalanche of thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings from continuing their destructive cycle.

A very valuable tool offered in CBT is the “Thought Record.” The book by Edmund Bourne, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, and the book Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky both have a series of tables that can be used to record thoughts, and help change the way thoughts affect our emotional state. The thought record assumes that the cause of our emotional unbalance, or any suffering we are experiencing, is preceded by thoughts that unconsciously and automatically arise when certain situations occur. If we can detect this flow, and interrupt it or substitute different conclusions, we can change the emotions or the suffering we are experiencing.

To make a thought record, create a table with the following seven headings across the top of the page, beginning with:

Situational Analysis

The first step in compiling a thought record is to note a situation you were in when an upsetting emotion or suffering occurred. Note whom you were with, what you were doing, where you were, when this happened be as detailed at possible. Write it all down in point form..

Mood Analysis

The second step is to describe the moods you were feeling in that situation. Use one-word labels such as sad, mad, glad, anxious, impatient then quantify the intensity of the mood in percentages. Really intense moods might be rated eighty or ninety percent. Weak moods might deserve ratings of only ten or twenty percent.

Automatic Thought Analysis

The third step is a bit more challenging, but can be fun. Ask yourself what was going through your mind when the situation arose, before you started to feel the moods. What thoughts came unbidden? Then ask yourself, “What do these thoughts mean about who I am?” What do these thoughts imply about your future? What is the worst thing that could happen because of this situation? How would this make other people think about you? What specific images arose in your mind at this time? Write these down. Circle or highlight the thoughts that seem to be the most powerful ones. These are called “hot thoughts.”

Evidence that Support the Hot Thoughts

List any evidence you can think of that would prove the hot thoughts to be true. Be factual here don’t mind read, or assume you know what other people are thinking.

Evidence that Does Not Support the Hot Thoughts

Now, search for reasons why these thoughts are perhaps mistaken. This is a critical part of the process. Take each thought one at a time. Mull them over slowly: don’t rush this. Ask yourself, “Are there other reasons why this situation could have occurred?” Consider what you would say to a friend who sought your advice, what evidence you would offer her for why these hot thoughts are wrong. Think of past times when you knew the hot thought was wrong. Think of as many reasons as possible why these thoughts are not true. Write these down.

Alternative Thoughts

Since you have many reasons why the hot thoughts may be wrong, come up with some more appropriate thoughts or conclusions that you could have reached in this situation. Look for balance. At the end of each alternative thought, rate how strongly you believe this thought to be true by assigning a percentage to it. A very believable thought may rate a ninety or one hundred percent.

Moods Revisited

After doing all this work, pause for a moment, and look again at the moods you listed earlier; rerate their intensities. How strong are they now? [1]

The thought record not only shines a light on the cause of our suffering, just as psychoanalysis or viveka does, but it also unhooks the causes from our reactions. By looking at how irrational our reactions are, and by accepting new thoughts, we can completely change the way the dots are connected. We can change the suffering we experience even though the pain, or the situation, is unchanged.

  1. — Further information on creating thought records can be found at Advances in Psychiatric Treatment: Identifying and Changing Unhelpful Thinking at http://apt.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/8/5/377?eaf.

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