If you have ever seen a counselor or a psychotherapist, chances are, you were asked to write a thought diary. A thought diary is a journal in which you record your significant thoughts, behaviors and triggers to those thoughts in a sequenced and orderly manner. Usually, the psychotherapist will specify a format for you to write the journal in. These thought diaries are fodder to psychotherapy sessions. The therapist usually goes through your thought diary at the beginning of a session and reviews your week.

In other words, your thought diary helps your therapist to understand what troubled you during the week, what those troubling triggers made you think and how you acted on those thoughts. Here is an interesting detail: if you could write the same thought diary and review it at the end of the week, even if you do not have any psychological troubles, you could still learn from your own thoughts and hope for a better and more fruitful next week.

It may make sense to start writing thought diaries even if you do not have any problems.

What is a thought diary?

A thought diary is a very structured journal. It is not like your usual diary that you start with a “Dear diary”. Instead, you make three columns on a sheet of paper and title them as follows: the first column states the trigger or the Antecedent, the second states your thoughts or your Beliefs and the third states the Consequences. For this reason, it is often referred to as an ABC diary. Usually, consequences refer to what you did following those thoughts that were triggered by a situation.

Antecedent/Trigger Belief/Thoughts Consequences
I was walking past the computer room. I need to pay money to the vendor. I sensed a headache coming so I took a few painkillers.

 

Let us look at an example. If you were suddenly worried about an impending payment that had to be made to your vendor, you would write in the second column that “I was troubled by the fact that I had to give money to the vendor. I started to think I would not be able to make the payment in time”. In the trigger section (which happens to be the first section, you could write “I was walking by the computer room and was reminded of the fact that I had to pay”.

If you notice, most of the times triggers are not really related to our thoughts. Thoughts just occur and the triggers may not be related to the actual worry. The third column, or the consequences column, is where you write down what you did following those troubling thoughts. You might write “I took a few pain killers to ward off the headache”. Certainly, this was not the most adaptive or helpful consequence or behavior.

At the end of the week, you could review your own diary and come to the conclusion that instead of popping a tablet, you could have eaten an apple or taken a walk in the park to divert your mind. Better still, you could remind yourself to call up the vendor and inform him or her that the payment would be delayed but shall be paid at a later date. Thought diaries help us to understand our own faulty coping skills and how we end up behaving in a way that may not necessarily be the best consequence to our thoughts. The good news is, we can change the consequences by reanalyzing and restating the thoughts.

How thought diaries can help you:

  • A thought diary helps you to understand the trigger of your maladaptive thoughts
  • Writing down thoughts helps you to understand if they are based in reality or irrational.
  • Diaries also help you to remember how you behaved when you were experiencing troublesome thoughts.
  • By recognizing existing patterns, you can change not only the behavior but also the thoughts themselves.
  • You can practice mindfulness to just observe the thoughts, without taking any action on those thoughts. In other words, you do not have to behave according to your thoughts.You can choose to ignore them. Ignoring your negative thoughts is a good consequence. If you start writing “I ignored my thoughts” instead of writing “I drank a bottle of beer” or “I took pain killers”, it shows that writing down your thoughts is really helping you.

Start writing the diary

Thought diaries can be powerful tools to understand how we behave, why we behave the way we do and what makes us to behave in such a manner. By reviewing them at the end of every week, we can make positive changes and replace maladaptive behaviors with constructive and helpful ones. If you are a business leader or a CEO, you will know how important this really is.

A thought diary is a part of cognitive behavior therapy but is also used in other forms of psychotherapies. You can follow the example we have shown you or you could also seek the help of an actual psychologist. By following this diary and always remaining observant of your own thoughts, emotions and beliefs, you will be able to change the way you behave. After all, bad behavior can really ruin our prospects of being successful.

The habit of writing a diary

Make it a habit to write down your thoughts in the format we have shown you above. You can take a small book or a set of sheets in order to maintain this diary. Ensure that you keep this diary confidential. No one should have access to your inner thoughts other than your therapist, if you are seeing one.

However, you can also choose to type this down on your computer or your cellphone and save it in a secret folder. Slowly over a period of time, you will come to realize your own maladaptive thinking patterns and that will help you to change positively. Consequently, your business and professional life will improve, leading to material and professional success.

These successes will further create a positive attitude which will again help you to avoid negative thoughts. It is all a cycle and maintaining this simple diary can make or break your career as a CEO or a business leader!

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