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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.

Passed Over for Promotion

EVENT: Once again, someone else was promoted at work even though I have been there longer.

EMOTIONS: upset, annoyed

DISTRESS RATING: 4—somewhat upset

THOUGHTS: “I am so unlucky. Nothing good ever happens for me. He probably has connections. And it is so unfair. I've worked here longer so they should promote me. Why should I even bother trying?”

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 upset and annoyed?

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) External Control. The belief that luck is involved with getting a promotion indicates this person is likely to have the irrational belief of External Control which is believing that luck, not effort, is involved in achieving success. In this case, he believes promotions are based on luck or "who you know."

The biggest problem with this way of thinking is that it usually indicates a general approach to life. Therefore, if this person believes that luck is based on success, he is not likely to make a great deal of effort which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure due to being unlucky or not having "connections."

2) Shoulds. The statement that the method of promotions is "unfair" is the belief that things "should" be fair. The problem with this thinking is that the individual believes that it should be fair according to his definition of length of time at the job. Someone else might define fairness as the quality of the work they do.

Again, this belief indicates that this individual is unlikely to make a great deal of effort at work which is likely to continue to influence future promotion decisions. Even the fact that his distress rating is fairly low for this situation indicates that he doesn't put a great deal of effort into even caring about changing the situation and has a more apathetic attitude.

3) Blaming. In addition, he blames others for his lack of success rather than recognizing that success is based on effort in his work environment. He is looking for external excuses rather than taking personal responsibility. Recognizing this is often difficult for someone who is an externalizer because they have to accurately acknowledge their personal flaws and failures which they have made a practice to avoid. It often takes an outside source to point this out but they still need to listen rather than dismiss the idea.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
“I need to listen to my boss and recognize that others were promoted because they put more effort into the job than I do and they are contributing more to the success of the company. It has nothing to do with luck or who they know. I have the opportunity for success as well if I make the effort."

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