Thinking ourselves out of trouble

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one model of therapy closely associated with assessing the impact of our thinking on our feelings and behaviour. It is, by no means, the only one and in your researches you may want to visit models such as:

Transactional Analysis (TA)

Rational Emotive Therapy (RET)

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

…. to name just four others.

There is a useful link relating to the history of cognitive models of psychology at:

A usful illustration of the elements involved in this approach to therapy is reporduced below:

Cognitive behavioral therapy - Wikipedia


It is as well to start with recording some thoughts; after all, these results may become the basis of a load of safe experiments in the future:


Transfer this information, above,  to a sheet of paper and identify a recent difficult situation. Choose something relevant: recent and not too troubling to you now.

Then complete the information so that the thoughts and feelings connected to a given situation are clearly recorded – briefly and specifically. Use bullet-points with as exact an account as possible. What’s familiar about the situation and the thoughts and feelings you have recorded? How strong are the feelings (use SUDs, if they make sense to you). Do the thoughts and feelings amplify your reactions to the situation or, indeed, lessen them?

Thereafter,  consider any connections between the situation, your thoughts and your feelings. How much are your reactions familiar and predictable or were you caught unawares.  Consider the Window of Tolerance (WOT) at:

…. and question what might you do differently in a similiar situation in order to remain in the ‘working area’, rather than jumping to the extremes.

There is a useful summary reference to Christine Padesky’s work in this area. She has identified a number of useful thought recording systems that will help with safe experimenting. Have a look at:


It is tempting to think our thoughts stand alone; they just exist. However, as the above safe experiment might demonstrate,  our thoughts can be shown to change according to our situation and:

  • our mood
  • images in our head
  • sensations in many parts of our body
  • other ideas we have about right and wrong/true or false, often shortened to ‘beliefs’
  • our ability to look closely at our thoughts and/or stand away from them

For instance, what is your first thought about this image:

Illusion WomanThis is a well-known visual illusion. Sometimes you may see one image and you may see something quite different on another occasion. If you have seen the picture before, you may find it easier to move between the two possible images. For a newcomer, it may be difficult to discern two very different pictures:  we tend to stickwith what we see. Why do anything else!

EXPERIMENT What are you seeing, now? For the present, I’ll keep the answers to myself and return to this picture later.

It is likely that our frame of mind will have some impact on our interpretation so, for the present, simply use the charts, above, to note what you are seeing as well as your feelings and any SUD, etc.

There are other images in our head that are not so benign and they, too, can take on a range of forms. The beliefs associated with those images can help make our life more or less un/bearable.  Here are some common beliefs held by many people – but likely to get us into difficulties:

“I should always put other people first”

“I should be happy all the time”, or “I am entitled to be happy”

“I should always know the answers”

“I should always be strong and in control”

“I am never wrong”

“I must succeed”

…. even taking the “always” out of some such beliefs can still lead us into murky waters!

These examples demonstrate some well documented patterns of thinking that can get us into trouble. Patterns include:

Selectively attending to things that are convenient to us; preferring to get it right, rather than accurate.

Asserting something with little evidence.

Exaggerating some things and minimising others; e.g  truth and beauty are all; there is nothing you can do about it.

Relying on generalisations resulting in always getting it wrong.

Personalisation; you are always getting it wrong (and, maybe, inferring I must be right).

Inferring things in an arbitrary way; “if only you did things my way .….”

Maybe you can think of some patterns of your own; my list is not intended to cover all and everything.


Float back to a time when you had an argument with some-one.

What was it about?

Who said what, to whom?

What assumptions appeared to keep the argument going?

What stopped the argument slowing down?

What beliefs did you, and the other party, appear to possess that made it difficult for the two of you to agree?

Has the argument recurred a few time in the past? If so, what set off the arguments each time?

What stopped the argument in the end.

Put your notes down and take a break. Pick them up after an interval of time – a day or so – and consider, from the list above, what pattern of thoughts you used during the argument. Do not infer anything about the other person’s thoughts. What conclusions do your draw about your own thinking patterns? Bear in mind – if this proves a difficult experiment to conclude – that you may need more time to distance yourself from the patterns you do possess!!  Come back to your notes at an even later date.

Return to:


What is a nudge

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Experiments with our communications