Recognizing unhelpful thoughts

The role of thoughts

In the section on behaviors, the first step was learning to recognize behaviors in your every day life. We need to learn the same skill for thoughts. A thought is an idea that occurs in your mind. We are particularly interested in the so-called stream of consciousness, which is the flow of thoughts through your conscious mind. When you concentrate, you can alter the course of this stream, focusing it on a particular subject. At other times, your stream of consciousness is on auto-pilot, meandering from one topic to the next.

One of the core principles of CBT is that our thoughts influence our mood. This is not a new idea. In fact, it was expressed over 2000 years ago by the Greek philosopher Epictetus:

We are disturbed not by things, but by the views we take of them.

In other words, it is not purely our situation that upsets us, but rather our thoughts and reaction to the situation. Some thoughts are inherently unhelpful, and will only lead to feelings of anxiety, stress and sadness. As with unhelpful behaviors, we need to identify and alter these thoughts. This is a very important point, so I will state it one more time:

  1. Our thinking impacts our emotions
  2. We have some power over our thinking
  3. Therefore, it is within our power to make positive changes that lead to a happier life

Identifying unhelpful thoughts

Here are Chloe’s thoughts as she sits on the train. Using the mouse, highlight her unhelpful thoughts.

In the description below, what counts unhelpful thoughts? Use your mouse to select text and highlight it. When you are done, click below to see my answers.

Thank god it's Friday. I am so excited to go and see my friend Anna. I hope her friend Lauren isn't over. She’s always asking when I'm going to have kids, or telling me stories about her's. I am such a failure not having children yet. I really need to try harder in getting pregnant. I wonder if I am pregnant now – I'm feeling all sorts of symptoms. Then again, I go through this every month... I'll probably never get pregnant. Life is so meaningless without a child. I can't stand this anymore.