Our mentors and page authors are not necessarily psychologists or therapists. Even when they are, this page is not medical or psychological advice and they are not creating a doctor/therapist-client relationship. You should consult a professional if possible and they can tell you whether this advice applies to your situation. If this is an emergency, you should call your national emergency number, like 911, or a mental health hotline, like 1-800-950-6264.

Now that you’ve mastered ABCD thought tracking, you might want to try an even more effective and complex way to monitor and react to your thoughts. This one takes more practice, more time, and more commitment, so we recommend trying the ABCD model first.

Rather than printing out the worksheet online, we recommend you use a spread (both pages) of your journal to create this chart and fill it out yourself. That way you have a record of all your CBT activities in one place. Creating charts and filling them in daily, weekly, or even monthly is also a very mindful, calming, and emotion-boosting activity.

Source: AccessCBT.co.uk

Here is more of a description of what to do to fill out each column:

  • Situation: Start by picking a mild or moderate event and then work your way up to dealing with your tougher situations or mental issues.

  • Feeling/Emotion: Identify the intensity of each emotion you felt from 0 to 100. There shouldn’t be just one emotion like anger. You probably felt sadness, anger, disappointment, fury, insecurity, vulnerability, and much more in that moment.
    • If you’re not sure about all your feelings, consider taking a few minutes to build out an emotional thesaurus, where you take a blank page and write down key feelings and then all the synonyms, variations, and more subtle feelings you can think of for using in your thought records.

  • Negative Automatic Thought: Much like in the ABCD model, record what crossed your mind. Some questions to ask yourself include: What was I thinking if I had to verbalize it? What images and memories crossed my mind? What meaning did I take from it? What did I think it said about my future? If I were writing a screenplay of my life, what thoughts would I assign myself to those moments?
    • Use a downward arrow method to get at the core beliefs and problems you face. Ask yourself “What does that mean?” repeatedly. For example, “I was angry he cheated me.” “What does it mean if he did?” “That I was weak and he got away with something.” “What does it mean if you’re weak?” “It means that no one will like me.” There can be a lot to unpack in even simple events and you’ll get better at recognizing that in time.

  • Evidence For/Evidence Against: For these columns, write facts that support your automatic thought and facts that go against it. Often, in the moment, it will seem like you’re definitely right and everything supports it. But upon reflection, you’ll probably realize things aren’t that negative. For example, for the thought “I will always be alone,” in evidence for you might write down that “I am alone six of seven nights a week.” In evidence against, you might write down that “lots of people are alone during periods in their life and I have time to find someone.” Some questions to ask yourself include: what opinions and assumptions am I using? What has happened in similar situations in the past or future? Am I following habits of mind [link]?
    • One advanced technique for collecting this evidence is to conduct a behavioral experiment. For example, if you fundamentally believe that you are unlovable because no one will help you, try reaching out to someone and asking for their time or help. (Try one of our mentors.) You might find out you were wrong. If you think that a warm bath or a call from a loved one is never going to make you feel better when you’re in a depressive spiral, try it next time. Maybe it will help if you only gave it a chance.

  • Alternate/Balanced Thought: After reevaluating the evidence, write down a more balanced thought, such as “I am alone now but will not always be.” It can be hard at first to find something that’s even vaguely positive. Try to start your sentence with “Yes, things are bad, but…” Here are questions you can ask yourself when trying to come up with the more balanced thought:
    • If I were talking to my best friend, what would I say to them?
    • Am I using a habit of mind [link coming soon] that is harmful and inaccurate? (Habits of mind include all or nothing thinking, minimizing or maximizing events, reading others’ minds without asking how they actually feel, etc.)
    • Is there a time when my original thought might not be true?
    • Is there another side of the coin?
    • What has helped me in the past?
    • Is my thought balanced/fair?
    • What is actually the worst-case scenario and is it really that scary? Can I live with the worst case?
    • Will I care about this five or ten years from now?
    • Are there any positives or silver linings I’m missing?

  • Finally, record your new feeling or emotion: Repeat the feelings you felt before and record their intensities from 1-100 now. You’ll often notice vast improvements.

Because the 7-Column method takes so long and requires so much mental energy, don’t feel a need to do this more than once or twice a week. The goal is to notice your behaviors and then have the more balanced thoughts in your arsenal to repeat to yourself the next time you’re in a similar situation.

The ABCD method and the 7-Column thought record will help you learn more and more about yourself over time. Specifically, see if you can dive deep into three areas of your psyche:

  • Core Beliefs: Do you think deep down that you’re not loveable? Successful? Do you think you have more control than you do? Do you fundamentally believe your self-worth is tied to respect from your parents?

  • Origins: Do you have a back story, a religious belief or the way you were raised, that creates problematic thought processes you’re still coping with? Did you grow up surrounded by anger? Do you have assumptions on how your marriage will turn out because of what happened with your parents?

  • Narrative: Do you believe the world works a certain way? That stories should have certain types of endings? Do you believe you need fame? Must everything be fair and are you obsessed with justice? Do you think people need to have more willpower? What story do you want from your life?

Learning more about yourself and being honest with ugly feelings of anger, resentment, jealousy, and sadness will help you improve those feelings and become a better person over time.


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