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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 CBT Tools for Healthy Living app. Read: Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

Just Trying to Be Helpful

EVENT: Girlfriend gets mad when I make helpful suggestions

EMOTIONS: annoyed, frustrated, perplexed

DISTRESS RATING: 5--Moderately upset but manageable

THOUGHTS: “I think life would be easier for my girlfriend if she were more organized. But when I make suggestions about rinsing dishes off so they are easier to clean or to put her things away when she's done with them, she gets mad. What is her problem? She's so touchy! I'm just trying to help her life to be easier. If she would do these things, then she would have less work in the long run and wouldn't be as stressed.”

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 annoyance, frustration, and being perplexed?

The CBT Tools for Healthy Living 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) Shoulds. This person has strong beliefs about what is the "right" way to do things. He believes that if something would save effort, time, or prevent future problems, it "should" be done. The problem with this type of thinking is not that he is wrong about certain behaviors making life easier but he doesn't realize that others may have different priorities regarding how they want to use their time. He then places a demand on others about these behaviors. Demands create additional stress. So, he believes that if his girlfriend were more organized, life would be easier for her. However, he doesn't recognize that his demands actually make life harder.

2) Negative Evaluation of Others. He tends to view others as wrong if they don't live according to his rules. Since his rules are the "right" way to approach life, other people who don't live accordingly must be wrong or bad in some way. Not recognizing that people may prioritize differently than him, he criticizes the choices they make. Perhaps his girlfriend is more concerned with other activities such as spending time with him and doesn't view being organized as a high priority.

3) Blaming. He then blames her when she becomes angry rather than seeing how his demands can be excessive. Since he believes he is right about his nitpicking, she must be "touchy" when she becomes angry rather than readily following his instructions. He thinks he is only trying to be helpful so the other person should be receptive to his suggestions. When his girlfriend isn't, he blames her.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I need to recognize that others have a right to choose what is important in their lives rather than trying to force my beliefs on them. My girlfriend will eventually get tired of my suggestions no matter how helpful I think they are. Instead of changing her, I'm more likely to drive her away. I need to learn how to accept others for the way they are instead of trying to change them. If I can't do that, I need to choose a girlfriend who is more similar to me."

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