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Cognitive Diary Example

The following example is to help learn to identify and change irrational thinking. It uses the format of the Cognitive Diary CBT Self-help app.



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Additional reading:

  • How Do We Change Irrational Thinking?
  • Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary
  • Articles defining irrational styles of thinking
  • Eating When Feeling Lonely

    Event: Sitting at home alone and binging on junk food

    Emotions: miserable, rejected, inadequate

    Distress Rating: 7--Distress, less in control

    Thoughts: I'm bored. All my friends are doing something else. They don't really care about me or they would have invited me. I'm probably just boring and they don't want to be around me. I'm such a loser! What does it matter if I eat junk food?

    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 misery, rejection and inadequacy?

    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) Mind-reading of Others. She is creating assumptions about why her friends are having fun and she is sitting home alone. There are so many possible reasons for such a situation that she can't know the reason unless someone has told her directly, "We don't like you." Short of that, she is guessing and since she is talking about "friends" it is unlikely to be true.

    Mind-reading is changed by recognizing that it is an assumption and that it is not possible to know what someone else is thinking without being told. How many times have you accused someone of thinking a certain way but they deny it? Yes, it is easy to further assume that person is lying. But then you are layering assumptions upon other assumptions. If nothing else, at least acknowledging that it is better to not draw any conclusions about a situation is better than inaccurate assumptions.

    2) Labeling Self. Believing that others don't like her, she then labels herself negatively as a "loser." The problem with such labeling is that it is global in the sense that one situation makes her a loser. As such, it implies that she is not capable of anything else in her life, and so, when her friends don't spend time with her she is a complete and utter failure. The likelihood of that being true is remote. In addition, she is basing her sense of self on what others might think. Even if people didn't like her, it doesn't mean she is a loser. She is choosing to define herself by how someone else might view her.

    Instead, she could examine her qualities and recognize there are many positive things about her and defining herself according to one situation isn't fair to her. And especially when that situation is based upon assumptions. She may even use this time alone to work on issues of self-concept and learning to define herself in a different way.

    3) External Control Fallacy. This person feels out-of-control. She doesn't believe she has a choice in her relationships with her friends and that her happiness is based on their whims. If they want to spend time with her then she is happy. Otherwise, she feels lonely and unhappy and tries to gain control by eating. The inaccuracy in this thinking is that she has control over her happiness and her emotions. Her emotions don't have to be based on her friends' decisions and behavior. Emotions are internal states that are representations of our thinking. The more she believes her happiness is based upon whether others like her and want to be with her, then she will be controlled by external situations and other people.

    How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
    "My friends might be doing something else but that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with me. It doesn't even mean they don't like me. It is normal to be busy with other friends and family. I have a lot to offer people and it is up to me to reach out to others—not always wait for them. Eating might make me feel good temporarily but it is not the solution."


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