Understanding Your Thoughts

Updated: Apr 29


Anything Happens -> You Have A Thought About It

Thoughts Do Not = Facts

A critical thing to realize is that thoughts are not necessarily facts. Thoughts can sometimes be facts (“That car is red”), but often they are opinions (“He is a nice person”). This matters because a lot of thoughts which cause us pain are opinions (e.g. “I’m useless”), and if they are opinions they may not necessarily be correct.

'Predicting The Future' Error

Our thinking is not always 100% accurate – sometimes we make mistakes. For example if we are depressed we often predict that doing something won’t be fun – but if we’re cajoled into doing it we might find that we enjoy it after all: this is a ‘predicting the future’ error.

Thoughts Affect How You Feel

Different problems are associated with different biases in our thinking.

When we are depressed we are aware of lots of negative thoughts. It can be difficult to remember the good things that have happened to us, so our thoughts are often very pessimistic or hopeless.

When we are anxious we are worried about something happening now or the future. Our thoughts may be about threats or dangers. They might be physical threats (to our body) or social threats (to our place in a group or society).

Biases In Thoughts

Another common mistake is to only pay attention to part of the evidence – for example only paying attention to things that went wrong, and ignoring what went right – this gives us a biased view of the situation.

What Can I Do About My Thinking?

Catching your thoughts: One of the first steps to changing the way you feel is to be aware of what you are thinking. To become more aware of our automatic thoughts CBT therapists use ‘thought records’ as a way of catching them. In CBT we are often on the lookout for particular types of thought called Negative Automatic Thoughts.

Challenging your thoughts: Once you have identified what goes through your mind, and worked out which parts bother you most, it is time to work on changing your thinking. This isn’t easy, and CBT certainly isn’t about ‘thinking nice thoughts’ or ‘looking for the silver lining’. CBT teaches you to think in a balanced way: accepting what is truly negative, but not making the mistake of thinking that is the whole story.

Helpful questions for challenging your thinking: Ask yourself:

  • Is this a fact or an opinion?

  • Does my thought match any of the typical unhelpful thinking styles?

  • If a friend told me they were thinking this way, what would I say to them?​

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