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Cognitive Diary Example:
Eating Alone

The following example is to help learn to identify and change irrational thinking. It uses the format of the CBT Tools for Healthy Living app.



Additional reading:

  • How Do We Change Irrational Thinking?
  • Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary
  • Articles defining irrational styles of thinking
  • Event: Eating lunch alone in the cafeteria.

    Emotions: rejected, shameful, inadequate

    Distress Rating: 7--Distress, less in control

    Thoughts: I look pathetic having lunch all by myself. Others think that I'm ugly and useless and not worth spending time with. Maybe if I was pretty and skinny others would like me. I should go on a strict diet and get some nicer clothes when I lose weight. There's no point in dressing better or taking better care of myself right now because I'm too fat to look pretty.

    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 rejection, shame, and inadequacy?

    Cognitive Diary CBT Self-Help

    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) Labeling self. This person is using negative labels to describe herself such as "pathetic", "useless", and "ugly." Such labels are extreme which means they are likely to be inaccurate and only serve to make her feel worse about herself. The problem with these types of labels is they tend to decrease self-esteem which leads to hopelessness and helplessness. Instead of solving the problem of loneliness, she is more likely to reinforce the negative beliefs she has about herself and continue to be alone.

    2) Mind-reading others. She's making assumptions that she knows what others are thinking of her. Unless they have told her those things directly she doesn't know what they are thinking or even if they are thinking anything at all about her. Much of the time people who are focused on having lunch with friends are oblivious to others around them. They are not likely to be thinking about how "pathetic" she is because they probably don't notice her. Not being noticed may be a different type of issue but for the purposes of this example she is focused on assuming they are having all sorts of negative thoughts about her or laughing about her eating alone.

    She's also assuming that others will like her more and want to spend time with her if she was skinny. By focusing on others and what they might think, she isn't focused on herself and how to be a good friend. Or, on how to choose good friends. Instead of trying to fit in with a group of people who have established friendships, she could seek out others by getting involved in activities that interest her. Then, she could reach out to others and try to get to know them rather than waiting for others to seek her out.

    3) Shoulds. Because she doesn't feel good enough as she is, she is placing demands on herself to meet criteria that she thinks will make her acceptable to others. Instead of trying to feel better about herself by refuting the thinking she believes she has to meet these standards. Most likely, even if she did meet these standards she is likely to find herself in the same situation because she didn't solve the true problem of feeling better about herself and learning how to create friendships.

    How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
    "If I'm not good enough for someone as I am, then they are not good enough to be my friend. I will focus on becoming friends with people who are loving and compassionate, not those who are superficial and demeaning. I'm probably just noticing those who are in groups and look like they are having fun. There probably are others who are alone and I could be friendly towards them and invite them to eat with me."


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