Automatic Thought Records (A complete guide)

Automatic thought records is a  CBT based intervention to help you challenge irrational thoughts by reshaping them. This blog gives you an overview of automatic thought records, their uses, their benefits and a lot more that would help increase your knowledge about automatic thought records. 

Automatic Thought Records and CBT

Automatic thought records are based on the CBT approach. According to CBT, our thoughts and cognitions lead to specific behaviors in us. ABC model works on reshaping cognitions to modify behaviors.  

Albert Ellis was the first person to introduce the ABC model of behavior. The ABC model deals with A, the activating event, B, the beliefs and thoughts and C, the consequence. It may seem like feelings in response to a relationship gives rise to reaction but this is not true. Your thoughts reside between the situation and your emotions. The perceptions about a certain situation affect your feelings. The automatic thoughts are so swift that most people fail to realize what they are thinking (Cuncic, 2019).

Automatic thought records are CBT based records that help you identify your automatic thoughts and enable you to work on them by rationalizing those thoughts and restructuring them to prevent their harmful effects on you. The automatic thought records aim to enable you to increase your focus on your thoughts and challenge them (Cuncic, 2019). 

According to cognitive behavioral therapy, our thinking patterns and behaviors affect our feelings. Thus if we work on changing our thinking, we can modify our behaviors and feelings. This will affect our lives as well. The issue in our thinking pattern is that much of our unfair, unjust and negative thinking is automatic and swift, many of the times we do not feel good and we even don’t know the reason behind feeling this. Cognitive behavioral therapy based thought records help us explore and identify our  negative thoughts, challenge them with fair and just thinking and thus produce modified feelings that lead to a different behavior.

Different Kinds of Thoughts Experienced by Us

Unlimited thoughts come across our minds daily. Some of these thoughts are helpful for us while some of them are not. Helpful thoughts aid us in boosting up and increasing our courage to do something (for example, “I am glad that I was able to help a poor man”) where the unhelpful thoughts let us down and decrease our self-esteem (for example, “I never complete my task on time”). As a matter of fact some of these thoughts are true and accurate (for example, “I can do this task with dexterity”, “I am not less than anyone”) while some of them are irrational and useless (for example, “I can never complete my task on time”, “I am useless, I can do nothing”).

Some important things that need to be kept in mind about your thoughts are:

  • Automatic and swift thoughts are experienced by everybody and these are involuntary in action.
  • Automatic thoughts are not reality based, these emerge as a result of assumptions.
  • Automatic thoughts are convincing but they can be faulty. 

Benefits of Using Automatic Thought Records 

Automatic thought records are considered to be the most common and beneficial remedial exercise for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The effectiveness of automatic thought records lies in its ability to enable individuals to look at their inner self and their reflections on a certain event. This helps individuals recognize their own thinking errors and the way it affects their reactions, themselves and their lives. Automatic thought records also aid individuals in learning ways to identify which of their behaviors are effective and which of them are not. It helps them alter their behaviors and reactions in discomforting situations (Guarino, 2019). 

According to cognitive behavioral therapy, our thinking patterns and behaviors affect our feelings. Thus if we work on changing our thinking, we can modify our behaviors and feelings. This will affect our lives as well. The issue in our thinking pattern is that much of our unfair, unjust and negative thinking is automatic and swift, many of the times we do not feel good and we even don’t know the reason behind feeling this. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy based thought records help us explore and identify our negative thoughts, challenge them with fair and just thinking and thus produce modified feelings that lead to different behavior.

CBT based automatic thought records are very helpful for us in modifying our behaviors because of they:

  • Help us identify our automatic thoughts
  • Help us recognize the problems in our thinking patterns
  • Help us to alter our thinking patterns

When to Complete A Thought Record

When you recognize a change in your feelings, this is the time you need to complete a thought record. When you experience an eventual change in youriri emotions, it is a sign that you have encountered an automatic thought. Instantly writing about the thoughts is helpful because the event or the thought is fresh in your mind and you can recall its details easily. It is not necessary to complete the thought record instantly, if you can remember it easily any time, you can fill the thought record later on as well.

Automatic thought records are a great source of learning interactions between our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These thought records can be used as an effective therapeutic tool for clients for helping them write down their own experiences and exploring their thoughts. Automatic thoughts records are also a very helpful source for challenging the irrational thoughts by restructuring them (thought record).

Making an Automatic Thought Record for Yourself 

For making an automatic thought record, all you need to do is to take blank papers and draw four columns on it. Then give the heading events, automatic thoughts, feelings and alternative explanations at the top of the first,second, third and fourth column respectively. This is a template for your automatic thoughts records (Kaplowitz, 2012).

In the first column, that is , events column, you are supposed to write down the events that gave rise to your automatic thoughts. This event could be any situation from your whole day. It could be when your boss called you for a meeting etcetera (Kaplowitz, 2012). 

The second column deals with the automatic thoughts that you experienced as a reaction to that event or situations. These thoughts are involuntary and instantly pop into the mind. In this example, the automatic thought could be that “I can’t believe he wants to meet me.  Is it something from the last he wants to talk to me with? He might be upset with me!” Thoughts like these are automatic and instant, they need not to be accurate as they lack any source of evidence or proof (Kaplowitz, 2012).

The third column refers to the feeling that we experience from our automatic thoughts. In this case, the feelings could be anxiety, sadness, fear etcetera. These feelings depend on the thoughts, if the thoughts are reflecting anger, you will feel frustrated and if your thoughts reflect fear, you will feel scared or confused (Kaplowitz, 2012).

The last column of the table, alternative explanations, deals with challenging these automatic thoughts. Here you are allowed to challenge your thoughts by reshaping your automatic thoughts. Such as in the above mentioned examples there could be positive reasons for calling for a meeting as well. Think of those positive reasons and challenge your negative automatic thoughts. For example the boss might be calling to discuss the next project which you are going to start or maybe you are going to get a promotion etcetera (Kaplowitz, 2012).

Obstacles to Using Thought Records

Automatic thought records are very useful for identifying errors in thinking and challenging faulty thoughts but there are some hurdles that come in the way of using automatic thought records. The obstacle that you encounter is that you might face difficulty in adopting a helpful thinking style but with the passage of time you gain power on challenging your thoughts and the new thoughts seem to be more convincing than the automatic thoughts (Cuncic, 2019).

Automatic thought records seem to be a difficult task to do. In the beginning you have to record your thoughts to work on them but once it becomes your habit you will not need to write them down for challenging your thoughts. 

Automatic thought records help you to recognize and restructure your thoughts. These CBT thought records are best useful in anxiety-causing situations and must be used for many times in a week (Cuncic, 2019).

Some Effective Thought Record Worksheets

The following is the traditional thought record worksheet based on CBT. it was developed by Aron T. Beck, following the CBT approach. This thought record worksheet consists of 5 columns. It helps you identify faults in thinking patterns and enables you to challenge them by alternative thinking. 

Automatic Thought Records (A complete guide)

Some other effective thought record worksheets can be found on the psychpoint website. You can download it from this page. An Automatic Thought Record worksheet is another great resource for challenging automatic negative thoughts. Thought Record worksheet aims to help individuals in the same way. You can download any of these thought record worksheets to help you challenge your thoughts and replace them with rational thoughts.

Useful Resources 

            by Frank Wills

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you find automatic thoughts?

Answer. One of the best ways to identify automatic thoughts is to recall the whole situation when you felt a change in your emotions. Recognize the discomforting feelings you experienced in that situation. Then recall the time when your mood changes. Another way to identify automatic thoughts is to ask yourself some questions about the situation that caused this all or Explore the event in detail and identify the thought with the help of your feelings. Last but not the least, you can record your distressing feelings and automatic thoughts associated with them.

What are negative automatic thoughts CBT?

Answer. Negative automatic thoughts are our negative perceptions about a situation or a certain happening. Negative automatic thoughts were first discovered by Beck. These are the thoughts that flow into our mind swiftly and can be recognized when paid attention. Negative automatic thoughts affect our mood and feelings in a negative way.

What are some dangers of automatic thought?

Answer. Automatic thoughts are involuntary in their action and they occur so swiftly that most of us fail to identify then. Automatic thought affects us in various ways. These thoughts are so convincing that it can affect an individual’s mental health by causing mental illnesses such as depression, stress, and anxiety.

What causes negative thinking?

Answer. Negative thinking could be a result of any physical or mental illness. Negative thinking could occur as a cause of common cold, stress, sleep deprivation, hunger, stress, allergies leading to depression and so forth. In most cases, depression itself is a cause of negative thinking. Cognitive distortions also contribute to negative thinking patterns.

How do you challenge a thought?

Answer. There are many ways to challenge negative thoughts. Following are some ways that are helpful for challenging negative thoughts:

What happens in a negative cycle of thinking?

Answer. Negative automatic thoughts are not good for us. They leave negative effects on us. Negative thought results in negative feelings and actions and may increase strain on us. Negative thinking can result in a vicious cycle that prevents us from taking control and leaves us feeling worse.


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