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Understanding the Impact of Positive and Negative Thoughts

Following on from the last tool we outlined, you may now see the events which cause you to have certain thoughts, and the feelings which arise from having those thoughts.

This allows you to  take action.  Because there is an interplay between thoughts, feelings and behaviour it sometimes becomes difficult to determine cause and effect. It also becomes difficult to make a balanced judgment about reality. By taking a scientific look at how you think, these unhelpful thoughts and feelings can be challenged. If I am walking down the street and pass an aquaintance who ignores me,  I might automatically think that this person does not like me.  This event would then trigger negative thoughts, such as 'I am not liked' and negative feelings such as anxiety.    

The example of being ignored on the street illustrates this point well. In this case we have jumped to a conclusion with not very much evidence.  Having the automatic thought 'this person does not like me' can be challenged.  Is it true that this person does not like me?  What is the evidence for and what is the evidence against this thought?  

Like a scientist we create a hypotheses e.g. I am not liked.  A scientist would look objectively at the facts both for and against this thought before reaching a conclusion.  By doing this with your thoughts you can create a more helpful narrative for your experiences.  So, it could be that this person was in a rush? They didn't see you? Maybe they don't like you -but other people do.  Who likes you? Mum? Dad? And so on.  This allows us not only to challenge the belief that 'this person doesn't like me', it also allows you to investigate possible deeper seated beliefs such as 'no-one likes me'.

You can do this type of investigation by creating another set of columns.  Create 3 columns.  In column 1 put the heading 'thought'; column 2 'evidence against the thought'; column 3 'evidence for the thought'.  So, if the thought in column 1 is 'people don't like me' then in column 2 put down all the evidence supporting this thought.  In column 3 put all the evidence against this thought.

Writing down the evidence for and against this thought will allow you to take a scientific look at your thinking.  By doing this you will be challenging the unwanted thoughts.  You may like to get someone to help you with this exercise as it may help you generate more helpful evidence. 

(Beck. 1979 Cognitive Therapy of Depression)

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