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5 Exercises To Help You Stop Believing Your Unwanted Automatic Thoughts




5 Exercises To Help You Stop Believing Your Unwanted Automatic Thoughts


5 Exercises To Help You Stop Believing Your Unwanted Automatic Thoughts




Automatic thoughts are images, words, or other kinds of mental activity that pop into your head in response to a trigger. These thoughts can seem mundane or unimportant, but they can, in fact, be extremely impactful. The types of automatic thoughts a person has can affect their health outcomes as well as their overall quality of life.


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Automatic thoughts can be positive or negative, but often they are negative and irrational. They can cause you to feel anxious, depressed, angry, or hopeless. They can also interfere with your self-esteem, relationships, and goals. For example, you might have automatic thoughts like:



  • "I'm a failure."



  • "No one likes me."



  • "I can't do anything right."



  • "I'm worthless."



  • "Things will never get better."




These thoughts are not based on facts, but on your beliefs and assumptions about yourself and the world. They are often distorted, exaggerated, or unrealistic. However, because they are automatic, you might not even notice them or question them. You might just accept them as true and let them affect your mood and behavior.


The good news is that you can learn to identify and challenge your automatic thoughts with some simple exercises. These exercises are based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy that helps people change their thinking patterns and cope with their problems. By practicing these exercises regularly, you can reduce the impact of your unwanted automatic thoughts and improve your mental well-being.


Exercise 1: Identify Your Automatic Thoughts




The first step to stop believing your unwanted automatic thoughts is to recognize them. This can be difficult at first, because they are often so quick and habitual that you might not even be aware of them. However, with some practice, you can learn to catch them before they affect you.


One way to identify your automatic thoughts is to use a thought record. A thought record is a tool that helps you keep track of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in different situations. You can use a worksheet or a journal to record the following information:



  • The situation: Describe what happened or what triggered your automatic thought. Be specific and factual.



  • The emotion: Rate how you felt on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 100 (extremely). You can use words like sad, angry, anxious, etc.



  • The automatic thought: Write down the exact thought that came to your mind. Don't censor or edit it.



  • The evidence: List the facts that support or contradict your automatic thought. Be objective and realistic.



  • The alternative thought: Come up with a more balanced and rational thought that takes into account the evidence.



  • The outcome: Rate how you feel after challenging your automatic thought on the same scale as before. Notice any changes in your emotion or behavior.




Here is an example of a thought record:



SituationI got a low grade on my math test.


EmotionSad (80), Angry (70), Anxious (90)


Automatic ThoughtI'm stupid. I'll never pass this class.


EvidenceFor: I didn't study enough. I made a lot of mistakes.Against: I usually do well in math. This was only one test. I can improve my grade with extra credit.


Alternative ThoughtI'm not stupid. I had a bad day. I can learn from this experience and do better next time.


OutcomeSad (40), Angry (30), Anxious (50)



By using a thought record, you can become more aware of your automatic thoughts and how they affect you. You can also learn to challenge them with evidence and replace them with more realistic and positive thoughts.


Exercise 2: Label Your Cognitive Distortions




Another way to stop believing your unwanted automatic thoughts is to identify the cognitive distortions that underlie them. Cognitive distortions are errors or biases in thinking that lead to irrational or inaccurate conclusions. They are common in people who suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.


Some of the most common cognitive distortions are:


  • All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black-and-white categories. If you are not perfect, you are a failure.



  • Overgeneralization: You make a broad conclusion based on a single event or piece of evidence. You use words like always, never, everyone, etc.



  • Mental filter: You focus on the negative aspects of a situation and ignore the positive ones. You magnify your flaws and minimize your strengths.



  • Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences or feedback by saying they don't count or they are exceptions. You maintain a negative view of yourself and the world.



  • Jumping to conclusions: You make negative assumptions without checking the facts. You mind-read what others are thinking or you predict what will happen in the future.



  • Magnification or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of something negative or you downplay the significance of something positive. You use words like huge, terrible, awful, etc.



  • Emotional reasoning: You believe that your feelings reflect reality. You think that if you feel something, it must be true.



  • Should statements: You impose rigid rules on yourself and others. You use words like should, must, have to, etc. You feel guilty or angry when these rules are violated.



  • Labeling: You attach a negative label to yourself or others based on a single action or trait. You use words like stupid, loser, jerk, etc.



  • Personalization: You blame yourself or take responsibility for something that is not your fault. You also blame others for something that is not their fault.



To label your cognitive distortions, you can use the same thought record as before, but add a column where you name the distortion that applies to your automatic thought. For example:



SituationI got a low grade on my math test.


EmotionSad (80), Angry (70), Anxious (90)


Automatic ThoughtI'm stupid. I'll never pass this class.


Cognitive DistortionAll-or-nothing thinking, Overgeneralization


EvidenceFor: I didn't study enough. I made a lot of mistakes.Against: I usually do well in math. This was only one test. I can improve my grade with extra credit.


Alternative ThoughtI'm not stupid. I had a bad day. I can learn from this experience and do better next time.


OutcomeSad (40), Angry (30), Anxious (50)



By labeling your cognitive distortions, you can learn to spot the errors in your thinking and correct them with more rational and balanced thoughts.


Exercise 3: Use Positive Affirmations




A third way to stop believing your unwanted automatic thoughts is to use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are statements that affirm your strengths, values, and goals. They can help you boost your self-esteem, motivation, and optimism.


To use positive affirmations, you can write down some sentences that reflect what you want to believe about yourself and your life. For example:


  • I am capable and confident.



  • I am worthy of love and respect.



  • I am optimistic and hopeful about the future.



  • I am grateful for all the opportunities and challenges in my life.



  • I am working hard to achieve my goals.



You can also use affirmations that are specific to your situation or problem. For example:


  • I can cope with stress and anxiety.



my fears and doubts.


  • I can improve my skills and knowledge.



  • I can communicate effectively and assertively.



  • I can handle criticism and feedback.



  • I can make positive changes in my life.



Once you have your affirmations, you can repeat them to yourself every day, preferably in the morning or before going to bed. You can also write them down on a piece of paper or a sticky note and place them somewhere you can see them often, such as your mirror, your desk, or your fridge. You can also say them out loud or record them and listen to them later.


By using positive affirmations, you can reinforce your self-worth and self-efficacy. You can also counteract the negative messages that your automatic thoughts might send you.


Exercise 4: Practice Mindfulness




A fourth way to stop believing your unwanted automatic thoughts is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of awareness and attention to the present moment, without judgment or reaction. It can help you reduce stress, improve your mood, and enhance your mental health.


To practice mindfulness, you can use various techniques that involve focusing on your breath, your body, your senses, or your surroundings. For example:


Breathing exercises: You can breathe deeply and slowly, paying attention to the sensation of air entering and leaving your nostrils. You can also count your breaths or follow a specific pattern of inhaling and exhali


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