Improve your thinking with a Cognitive Behavioral Journal

I strive to be less wrong, and I think I’ve discovered a tool that makes the process a bit more measurable.

I recently finished The Coddling of the American Mind, an interesting book I’ll post about later. In the Coddling the authors outline the general process of how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works, and it was much simpler than I had thought.

This surprised me because while I’ve never participated in CBT, I studied Cognitive Psychology in collage. Which I guess just contrasts the difference between learning about something, and experiencing that something.

So I started using it to consciously improve my thinking. It’s a very simple practice, and I encourage you to try it as you read:

  1. Identify when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, write down which thoughts are anxiety inducing or overwhelming.
    Example: I had a blood clot recently and I’m afraid it’s limiting my lifestyle permanently.

  2. Think about what emotions underlie your anxiety or overwhelm, write it down. There’s always some emotion behind the thoughts. Always.
    Ex: I’m afraid of being Limited.

  3. Write down a score of how strong that emotion is between 0 and 100. Ex: 80

  4. Identify any common cognitive distortions that are present in your current thinking.
    Ex: Overgeneralization.

  5. Now restate the original thoughts without those cognitive distortions.
    Ex: I will have to learn how to live with the ramifications of a blood clot. As far as I know, I’ll just be on weak blood thinners for life. I can still do anything I want.

  6. Finally put down a new score of how strong the emotional impact is now, after you restated the thought.
    Ex: 20.

That’s it.

Repeating this 6 step process should make a noticeable difference in how one reacts to emotional triggers.

More importantly, to me, it’s a measurable way to improve my own thought process. I can revisit my journal and consciously learn from the errors I make. Practically see how often I find specific mistakes in my thinking, and how should be thinking. Practicing more accurate ways of thought instead of unknowingly repeat the same mistakes.

If this interests you, try it! And let me know what your experience was.