A Thought Record is a visual way to represent your thinking as it occurs in specific situations and events to allow you to see in real-time how your thinking affects your feelings and behaviors. It is a classic cognitive behavioral therapy tool first created by Aaron Beck, M.D., and there are a number of forms it can take. The version below is one I developed for my clients. It provides a structured way for you to see how your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors emerge in a linear fashion and also allows you to evaluate your thinking so that you can respond to these thoughts and feelings in less self-sabotaging ways.
The next time you notice a negative feeling—whether it’s an emotion that comes up, or you experience uncomfortable physiological reactions—ask yourself, What’s going through my mind right now? In your journal, copy the chart below, document the date and time, and jot down the thoughts or mental images you are experiencing in the Automatic Thoughts column. Also take some time to note how much you believed in these thoughts on a scale of 1 (not really believing it at all) to 10 (believing it as much as you believe and know that the earth is round).
Then scroll back in your mental recollection and ask yourself, What was going on right before I had these thoughts? In the Situation/Event column, note some details about what was happening just prior to the emotion arising. The event can be either external in the form of an observable, objective event (like being laid off from your job) or an internal event like replaying a memory of a past event or visions of an imagined future event—for example, being scolded during a meeting for not following up with a client.
Next, consider the feelings you had that led you to use this Thought Record in the first place. If you felt particular emotions, write them down along with the intensity that you felt these emotions on a scale of 1 (barely registering) to 10 (feeling extreme discomfort, to the point where you can’t focus on anything else in the moment). If you felt physiological reactions, write down a description along with the intensity that you felt these physiological responses on a scale of 1 to 10.
Finally, consider the last column. If you haven’t acted on these negative feelings already, write down what you wanted to do when these negative emotions came on, whether it’s hiding away in your home, reaching for a snack, or yelling at someone. Try to be honest and examine what your instinct was when these negative feelings came up and what you felt pushed to do. If you actually acted on your negative emotions, then write a few details that describe your actions.