The Thought Record Solution
A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking
— Steve Wright
Bad things happen, and some suffering is unavoidable. But you can create additional suffering for yourself and others by interpreting the event from a self-critical or poignant perspective. If there is a recurring pattern to your anger, anxiety, or depression, it is likely that the your problem is a result of your interpretation rather than of your misfortune of being singled out for recurring episodes of bad luck or doomed to a exceptionally miserable or threatening future.
Using The Thought Record
The Thought Record will guide your personal research into the cause-and-effect principles that determine your reactions. This tool will help you understand how your beliefs and perspectives transform the things that happen into your emotional reactions. This retrospective tool will help you understand the causes of emotional reaction that was stronger than the situation warranted.
This tool will help you understand the relationship between the objective world of events and your emotional reactions to them. The possibility that another person would react differently to the same events that caused your strong reactions suggests that it is your interpretation of what these events mean about you, the people around you, your future, etc. rather than the events themselves that cause your emotional reactions.
The beliefs and perspectives that determine your interpretations exist only within you; they are not part of the objective world. Despite your certainty about the validity of your perceptions and appraisals, they probably do not provide a complete representation of objective truth. Your certainty is based on the information that is available to you from your perspective; people with different perspectives have different understandings, of which they are equally certain.
Pathogenic Beliefs are special, because they bias your interpretation of the things that happen in ways that promote bad outcomes and so are self-confirmatory. Consequently, the handicapping beliefs are continually strengthened by the bad outcomes they produce and thereby become part of the habitual sequence of internal states and external events known as the path of least resistance. Rumination and other unsophisticated attempts to escape this kind of recursive trap, like the flailing of animals caught in conventional snares, only tightens the entrapment mechanism.
An effective solution strategy involves changing your perspective from the creature experiencing your emotional reaction directly to that of the dispassionate observer who can observe the cognitive structure that maintains the trap. From a distance you will be able to appreciate how cause-and-effect works in your subjective universe, and the truth will make you free.
The exercises in this section are not designed to make you happy or to get you to believe nice things about yourself, but to encourage you to explore different perspectives and different ways of making sense of the events that happen.
Effective use of the the Thought Record can free you from the illusions that cause you to react to the things that happen in stereotypical and self-sabotaging ways. This is a simple and straightforward way to study the important determinants or your reactions to the things that happen.
Any excessive or counter-productive emotional reaction gives us an opportunity to observe a pathogenic cause-and-effect sequence. Take advantage of this gift and complete a Thought Record as soon as possible after an unnecessarily strong or self-sabotaging emotional reaction.
- Complete the third column [col C] first. Here you will name the emotion you experienced — e.g., anger, fear, frustration — and rate its intensity from 1 [very low] to 10 [strongest emotion you've ever experienced — resist the urge to label everything a 10].
- Next, complete the first column [col A]. This column is for your description of the antecedent events that evoked the emotional reaction. If you can, use play script — that is, describe it in a way that would it enable someone who was not there to visualize or act out the events.
- The middle column is where we do our detective work to identify the interpretation that turned the antecedent event into the particular emotional reaction that you experienced.
[Note: We are not looking for the healthy, politically correct belief, but the belief that is causally related to the emotional reaction you experienced].
- Recall: What thoughts or images went through your mind at the moment that may account for your emotional reaction?
- Probe: While reviewing the episode from your current perspective, what abstractions come to mind? Ask yourself questions such as:
- What does this event say about me?
- What does this mean about my life, my future?
- What was I afraid could happen?
- What does it mean about how this person (or other people in general) think about me?
- What does it mean about this other person (or other people in general)?
- What images or memories does this situation trigger?
- What does this event say about me?
- Go Deeper: To discover the foundation for the Pathogenic Belief you can continue to probe the answers you get by asking yourself follow-up questions such as: "if this thought is true, what does that mean about, me, the other, or the future?"
- Clearly, there is something between the antecedent and the consequent emotional reaction. Each Thought Record you complete gives you additional understanding of the cause-and-effect principles that operate in your subjective universe.