Love Street Counselling's blog

Ramblings and side notes with the occasional foray into a mental health topic

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Accidental Cognitive-Behavioural exercise

Notebook with happy thoughts on one side and sad thoughts on the other

I thought I’d share a bit about an exercise that me and my wife came up with to help me with some challenging thoughts I have been struggling with. I think it’s sort of based in cognitive-behavioural therapy principles – maybe you could think about it as a simplified form of the ABC technique, useful when you’re not really ready to articulate what your underlying beliefs things exactly are.

Basically I had the idea that when I would get emotional, sad, upset and started crying I would note down what I was thinking at that moment, to get it out of my system. I ran this idea by my wife who had the idea that if I was to do that, it would be a good idea to put a second column with things that made me happy as well. A very obvious idea in retrospect, but at the time I was fully prepared to just pour out my negative thoughts onto paper.

Well, it turned out it was very helpful indeed to put positive thoughts into a separate column from the negative ones. Even on some very challenging days, where I cried a lot, I managed to jot down more positive thoughts than negative ones, thus challenging my own memory bias to only remember the negative thoughts in a concrete way.

As days wore on, I would physically draw a line under the previous day and start cataloging my thoughts on the next day. This would show me at a glance that positive column becoming inevitably longer than the negative one. Positive thoughts would start winning more and more every day. I’m at day six now, and I have already had a full day where I have not had intense sad thoughts, which is very empowering and speaks volumes to me about my capacity to overcome.

I found the exercise very simple to follow and very helpful, maybe even more so in a period of intense personal struggle than the ABC technique. If emotions are running so intense you can only manage to barely articulate the badness and sadness inside, you might not have the mental wherewithal to reverse-engineer your way back to the underlying belief. Maybe someone else would find this likewise helpful in some small way, as a complement to the ABC technique.

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