A CBT diary can be a very effective tool for managing distressing emotions and unhelpful behaviours. A CBT diary consists of writing down our interpretations and reactions to difficult life events and then reframing them in the most rational way possible. Here are some simple steps to follow:
Write down the Trigger. The trigger is often an external experience/event beyond our control.
Write down what you believe/think/predict about the Trigger. Often our beliefs/thoughts/predictions are irrational.
Write down the impact of having the above thoughts. By impact, I'm referring to the emotional impact as well as any behaviours you are exhibiting.
Now ask yourself, 'Am I looking at the situation in a rational and logical way?'
Finally, write down a more logical, flexible and self-compassionate interpretation.
Here is an example of how this can work:
Trigger: I just found out that my friend got a big promotion in work.
Belief/Thoughts/Prediction: I believe that I'm not doing well enough in my career compared to my friend. I'm thinking that I'm not good enough and I'm predicting that my friend has a great future to look forward to, but I don't.
Impact: I'm feeling jealous and resentful of my friend. I'm feeling sad and I'm beating myself up. I have the urge to avoid my friend.
I'm not looking at the situation in a rational and logical way. In fact, I'm using my friend's promotion, which has very little to do with me, to draw negative conclusions about myself.
A more logical, flexible and self-compassionate interpretation: Someone else's success does not equal my failure. My friend has achieved something great and that's a good thing. I want good things for my friend. I also want good things for myself and if I continue to work hard, opportunities will come my way. I don't need to use other people's success as a way to downgrade myself. Even if I never got a promotion, I'm good enough as I am. I have intrinsic value and I don't deserve to judge myself so harshly.
Over time, by keeping a diary and following these steps, it is possible to change our automatic interpretations of life events. It's important to remember that it's not necessarily the events in life (Triggers) that cause us distress, but our interpretation of these triggers.