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Thought Records

Thought records are for the purpose of being able to better understand, acknowledge, and identify our negative thoughts. The premise is that just because we have a thought it does not mean that we have to accept it as being true since sometimes our thoughts (especially when we are feeling depressed or anxious) do not always reflect reality. A thought record helps you to put these thoughts to a test by allowing you to challenge your thoughts and gain a more balanced way of thinking. This article will discuss the seven steps when it comes to completing a thought record using the Mind over Mood thought record by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky.


1. Situation

The first step requires you to identify the situation that has caused you a strong feeling, thought, or reaction. When thinking about this event it is important to stick with the facts of what occurred. To do so, it can be helpful to answer the following questions

  • a)Who were you with?
  • b)What were you currently doing
  • c)When was it?
  • d)Where were you 

2. Moods

​ After you have identified the situation by sticking to the facts, you can then delve deeper by identifying the kinds of emotions (e.g., angry, depressed, guilty, anxious) that you experienced as the result of this particular situation. After you have identified the kinds of emotions that you experienced, rate the intensity of these moods using a scale from 0-100%.

3. Automatic thoughts (and images)

Identify the kinds of images and thoughts that you think of in regards to the situation. Sometimes, these kinds of thoughts are so automatic and embedded that we may not even be aware that we are having them. Often a few questions that can be helpful to answer these kind of questions include

  • a)What was going through my mind just before I started feeling this way?
  • b)What does this say about me?
  • c)What does this mean about me, my life, and my future?
  • d)What am I afraid might happen?
  • e)What is the worst thing that would happen if this does turn out to be true?
  • f)What does this mean about how the other person might perceive me?
  • g)What does this mean about the other person or people in general?
  • h)What kinds of images or memories do I have in this particular situation?

After you have answered these questions and compiled your list, now identify the hot thought. What this essentially means is circling the thought which is the most prominent or distressing. This is the thought you are going to be on trial. ​

4. Evidence that supports the hot thought

This next step is about gathering and thinking about the evidence that makes up your hot thought. Essentially, you are putting your thought on trial and listing the evidence that supports it. Avoid mindreading and your own interpretations or opinions. Stick with the evidence including the facts such as the data and probabilities. Then, write down the factual evidence you have come up with to support the conclusion you have made. Let's say your thought was "I'm always embarrassing myself", after you arrived late to a class. These types of statements would be considered "credible evidence" for the hot thought.

  • I got lost in the building whilst trying to find the classroom
  • I accidentally slept in today and got to University late
  • I disrupted the class for a minute as I walked in and took my seat

Whereas, these kind of statements would not be considered 'credible evidence'
  • I ruined the class for everyone
  • My teacher hates me now
  • Everyone in my classroom thinks I'm embarrassing 

​5. Evidence that does not support the hot thought 

Now that you have put your thought on trial and have found evidence for the thought, it is now time to switch positions and discover holes in your story and evidence that does not support your hot thought. For instance, your evidence against the thought "I'm always embarrassing myself" might be..

  • I accidentally slept through my alarm and therefore got to University late, but this is the first time this has happened because I'm usually good at being on time in class
  • I approached the teacher after class and apologised for being late and she reassured me it was okay
  • When I arrived late to class, barely anyone even noticed when I entered or if they did they seemed not to mind, so perhaps maybe they didn't think I was embarrassing
  • Nothing really that bad happened in regards to me walking slightly late into class 

​6. Alternative/balanced thoughts

Now that you have looked and weighed the evidence for both for and against the hot thought, it is now time to switch the role of the judge. This means taking into account the evidence from both sides and then coming up with a fair verdict which allows for a more balanced perspective. For instance, in the "I'm always embarrassing myself" scenario, some of the conclusions you may decide to draw could include 

  • I made a mistake by sleeping in today but I know that usually I'm very prompt and on time
  • The teacher and my students may have been disrupted for a minute when I walked into class and took my seat, but that doesn't necessarily mean they thought I was embarrassing. It happens to everyone!
  • I'm doing my best and next time I will just set my alarm a little earlier 

​ Now that you have identified some more balanced and alternative thoughts, now using a scale from 0-100% rate those thoughts in how much you believe them.


7. Rate moods now 

The final step requires you to rate your mood again. In addition, any new moods you may now be experiencing. Remember to rate the intensity of the mood on a 0-100% scale. If the thought record has been helpful, then you will see a mood change in step 7. If there has been no change at all in your moods, sometimes it can be helpful to reflect on your thought record and look at any of the steps in which you could add or reflect a little more on.


It's important to remember that sometimes there might not be a drastic or immediate change in your moods, but sometimes even going from feeling 100% to a 70% on a particular mood is still an achievement. Be proud of the progress no matter how small! If you would like any additional mental health support please call LETSS at 1800 013 755 or start a webchat via www.letss.org.au

(image by Alex Samuels from Unsplash) 

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