CBT: Thought Challenges


CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It can be needed when our cognitive behaviour becomes negative – and is highly beneficial when we get stuck in a rut or become overly anxious. Remember the Aloe Vera plant I mentioned in Snowballing? I promised a second installment on it and this is it. CBT is where my Aloe Vera concept came from and it is something I believe to be invaluable knowledge.

However, before I begin I just want to emphasise how this is my own understanding of handling cognitive behaviour and I’m aware not everyone is the same.

So, as I mentioned before, anxious thoughts can easily spiral out of control and ‘snowball’ and therefore we need to equip ourselves with ways to tackle this head on.

Do you ever find yourself thinking a negative outcome is the be all and end all? See situations in black and white? Jump to conclusions? Dwell on negative thoughts, ignore positive ones and ruminate on a single thing for hours?

According to Dr David Burns, these are all a part of cognitive distortion – and before you run scared at the word ‘distortion’, thinking that it is something abnormal and should be hidden, I assure you it really is very common and nothing to be ashamed of. As I have said, we just need to learn how to deal with it.

‘Distortion’ in this context simply means we are letting our emotional thoughts rule our rational ones – i.e. the illogical part of our mind is trying to smother the logical part.

For a really simple example, imagine you fail a test. Instead of thinking, “Oops, that wasn’t the best but I’ll do better next time,” you think solely about this bad result and not on how you could improve or even consider that it may, in fact, have just been a really hard exam and it simply got the better of you on that day. You think that you are stupid, worthless and not smart enough to have even bothered sitting the paper in the first place. These are called Negative Automatic Thoughts and the arch nemesis of your logical brain.

For me, I think that first understanding this battle between the logical and illogical is key to getting to grips with dealing with anxiety, because it is the Negative Automatic Thoughts that help anxiety thrive. Then it’s time to fight that battle.

How? The aforementioned Aloe Vera plant for the mind: Thought Challenges – which will help cognitive restructuring and create a more balanced state of mind. Basically, they are questions that you challenge your Negative Automatic Thoughts with.

  1. Is it a thought or a fact? How so?
  2. Am I jumping to conclusions? How so?
  3. Are there alternative explanations? What could they be?
  4. What evidence do I have?
  5. What are the advantages/disadvantages of me thinking like this?

And lastly, the Golden Rule for dealing with the What Ifs:

If it happens, then I’ll deal with it.

You can pick and choose which thought challenge(s) helps you the most. Initially, you can write down your negative thought, challenge it and write down your more balanced point of view. After awhile you will be able to do the process in your own head and hopefully keep the anxious thoughts to a minimum.

Dealing with anxiety for me is keeping a handle on the level of worrying I do. I like to keep the words of Ernest Hemingway in mind: “If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.” I’m a sucker for a good quote, me.

There is so much more I have to say on all of this so if you feel I’m not covering everything, you’d be right – but I eventually will!  However with a topic so varied and large I think little by little is the approach to take, so I’ll leave it there for now…




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