Programme: Learning to think differently

3. Your thoughts are not always the truth

Reading time: 3 minutes

In the previous cards, we helped you to see that you are more than just your thoughts and we looked at ways to observe your thoughts. In this card, you will be learning a different kind of skill that you can use to think differently.

Thoughts are simply mental activity - no more and no less. They pop into our heads without us even noticing. Because thoughts occur automatically, we are often unaware of the fact that we are thinking, let alone of the effect that those thoughts may be having on us. It is particularly important to be aware of negative thoughts (pessimistic thoughts, thoughts that diminish your own self-confidence, self-judgement etc) so that - if you want to - you are able to break out of the negative spiral quickly, before it begins to have a negative influence on your behaviour. 

An effective way to discredit your thoughts is to question them. Ask yourself: Are these thoughts really helping me? Are they really true?

The first step towards challenging your thoughts is to identify them. To do this, you can use the thought record below:

Thought Record

Event - What happened?

Thought - What thoughts did you have?

Feeling  - What feelings did you have?

Behaviour - What did you do?

Consequence - What happened next?

Once you have filled in the thought record, you will be able to identify and challenge your thoughts. Here are some examples of some the questions you can address to your thoughts

Questions to help you to challenge your thoughts

1. What proof do you have for your thoughts? Make a list of evidence in favour of and against your thoughts.

2. Can you look at the situation in a different way? Is there any other explanation?

3. How would someone else think about  the situation?

4. Is your judgement based on what you felt or what you did?

5. Are you setting yourself unrealistic or unachievable goals?

6. Are you ignoring important facts or focusing too closely on insignificant details?

7. Are your thoughts too black and white? Are you thinking in all-or-nothing terms?

8. Are you overestimating the amount of control and responsibility you have in the situation?

9. What is the worst thing that can happen?

10. If this were to happen, what would it mean? What would be so terrible about it? 

11. Are you underestimating what you are able to do to solve the problem?

12. How will this look in X months time?

13. What are the real and possible consequences of the situation?

14. What are the pros and cons of thinking in this way?

15. If someone thinks something about you, is it necessarily true?

16/ Can you read other people’s thoughts?

We can sum it up with these four key questions:

I)             Evidence for and against: is my assertion really correct? Is it true? Is it realistic? If not, on what grounds?

II)            Are there any alternative ways to view or explain the situation?

III)          Is the way I am thinking helpful? Is it useful in any way for me to think like this?

IV)         Imagine that your thought is true, and that the worst possible outcome occurs. What would this mean for me? How would I deal with this outcome?

Reflect & connect

Now answer the following questions/carry out the following tasks with your online psychologist and/or a friend. (It is always easier to challenge someone else’s thoughts than to challenge your own.)

1. Fill in the thought record

2. Using the example questions above, try to challenge one of your own negative thoughts.

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