The Coping Kete

No. 44: Making New Automatic Thoughts

This week to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will begin practicing how to replace unwanted automatic thoughts with balanced alternatives that better serve me in the moment.

First, I will spend a couple of days noticing which automatic thoughts seem to pop into my head repeatedly. At the end of each day I will write down the most repetitive automatic thoughts I had that day.  If I already know which automatic thoughts are most repetitive, I can skip this first step.

Once I know which thoughts I want to change, I will prepare alternative statements that I can use to counter those unwanted automatic thoughts when they pop into my head. Whenever I hear myself thinking one of the unwanted automatic thoughts, I will say the balancing thought to myself, either in my head or out loud if I want to.  The more I am able to practice saying the new balancing thought to myself, the more automatic it will become.

Over time, I will be able to teach myself a new more balanced way of responding in the moment. In the moment, a balanced way of thinking will soothe my sense of distress, provided I am able to believe the balancing statement I give myself.

For example, a really common repetitive automatic thought is “I can’t do this.” This is a thought that can pop into a head in almost any difficult situation and increase how distressing it is. A possible balancing statement is – ‘This could be tricky, I just need to put one foot in front of the other.’  Each time I hear myself think ‘I can’t do this’ I will say my prepared balancing statement to myself instead.

It is really important to make the balancing statements ones that I can believe and agree with. Otherwise the exercise seems contrived and unnatural – it is likely to feel weird anyway, because the balancing thoughts are new ones.  It is very common for people to make balancing statements that are more about what they think they should think, rather than what they really could believe to be true.

Note: As balancing statements are generally new, they do feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable to practice, even if you have selected one that you believe in 100%.  It will be important to persevere through this feeling of unfamiliarity before the balancing thought will start to feel comfortable to hold for yourself. Alternatively, feeling uncomfortable saying the statement may be an indication that it is not something you really can believe yet and perhaps the statement needs to be changed a bit.

Once I have become comfortable doing this activity of noticing my thoughts and countering them with balanced statements I believe, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as something to try during moments of stress and distress when I want to connect with a different way of thinking about things.

2 Thoughts on “No. 44: Making New Automatic Thoughts

  1. Richie on May 12, 2011 at 10:56 said:

    This tip 44 really is a beauty. The most helpful part is using balanced thoughts during visualisation and meditation when you a feeling good also. This will reinforce and help recall the balanced thought when distressed.

    A great technique I use is the Engage Cognitive Reappraisal sheet (thought record). I work out the hot-thought to a really distressful situation that has happened with someone/something. Work out all the supporting/non-supporting evidence as usual, create 2-4 balanced thoughts and then an acronym of each balanced thought. Perhaps use the first letter of the first word of the balanced thought. The acronym could be TAR or RUBY. During day-to-day activities and when feeling distressed by negative thoughts, recall the acronym (RUBY or TAR) – this in effect puts a block to the negative thought – you can recall your balanced thoughts much easier.

    Another key thing to learn from above; after having practised recalling the acronym enough/balanced thoughts – eventually the acronym itself is enough in you head to recall in negative situations. Later in the evening after daily chaos and during meditation/visualisation – recall the acronym/balanced thoughts. Then once this is recalled, the negative thoughts/energy accumulated from the chaotic day that were ‘procrastinated’ (by recalling the acronym from time-to-time), this can be safely explored in private and comfort… This essentially sorts your head out and ultimately reduces negative/hot thoughts from reoccurring and is very helpful during distressing situations.

    • engageblog on May 15, 2011 at 02:36 said:

      Oh your acronym idea for quickly recalling a whole set of balanced statements is a stroke of genius, Richie – thanks so much for sharing it. Excellent stuff.

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