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Cognitive Diary Example


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The following is an example to help learn how to identify and change irrational thinking. It is best to read the articles defining the irrational styles of thinking prior to trying to identifying the styles in the example. It uses the format of the COGNITIVE DIARY CBT SELF-HELP app. Read: Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

Being Assertive With Boss

EVENT: My boss is being unreasonable in her expectations for overtime but I can't say "no."

EMOTIONS: frustrated, afraid

DISTRESS RATING: 8—high level of distress

THOUGHTS: “My boss is very demanding and critical. I know that if I refuse to stay late she will fire me. I really don't have any options. She won't listen to reason.”

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of frustrated and afraid?

The Cognitive Diary CBT Self-Help app helps you to determine some ways to challenge the irrational thinking. Once you have done that, it is important to read the rational challenges frequently until they automatically come to mind rather than the irrational thinking.


Irrational Beliefs:
1) Catastrophizing. This person immediately jumps to the worst case scenario if he were to speak his concerns to his boss. He believes that she will fire him. However, there are many other possibilities besides firing him and he needs to examine the likelihood of the different possibilities rather than believing that the worst outcome will occur.

In particular, he needs to examine the evidence for this belief. Has she fired other people before for voicing concerns to her? Has she threatened him with firing if he doesn't work the overtime hours? The answers to these questions provide evidence and if the evidence doesn't exist it is irrational to assume that the worst outcome will occur.

2) Negative Evaluation of Others. He indicates that his boss is critical, demanding, and won't listen to reason. He has many negative labels for her and may not be judging her in a balanced way. Many of these attributes he ascribes to her could be viewed in other ways. For instance, maybe she has a great deal of pressure on her to get a project done in a timely fashion. Or, maybe she is trying to motivate her employees to achieve at a higher level.

Again, he needs to examine the evidence. If the way she treats him is demeaning and abusive, then perhaps he is right about her being critical and demanding. However, if she expresses in an appropriate fashion that she expects him to do his job well, then he may be overly-critical in his judgment of her. After all, isn't he being paid to do a good job?

3) Mind-Reading Others. He is automatically assuming that he knows what her response will be to him if he tries to voice his concern about the overtime demands. However, unless he has strong evidence, he really doesn't know how she will respond.

In fact, her response may be affected by how he approaches her. If he approaches her with his negative expectations, he may create the self-fulfilling prophecy of a negative outcome. However, if he approaches her in a problem-solving manner, she may be more likely to respond. For example, he could say, "I know it is important to you that we work this overtime. However, the amount of overtime is creating a problem for me. I'd like to discuss some options regarding this issue that can be satisfying for both of us."

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
“I need to recognize that just because I speak my concerns, it doesn't mean there will be a negative outcome. I don't have any hard evidence for that. In fact, I imagine my boss is just trying to do the best job she can. So, I need to approach her in a way that will allow her to listen to my concerns. I can't know that I will get what I want, but the likelihood of her firing me isn't high if I approach her in a reasonable way."

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