“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” – Eckhart Tolle

Who do you speak to most in a given day?  Yourself. Experts have found that our brains initiate between 6,000- 8,000 automatic thoughts each and every day.  Although it may not feel natural to examine your thoughts, identifying your automatic thoughts is the first step toward lasting life change. 

This ABCDE thought journal exercise will walk you through the process of identifying your unhelpful (or irrational) thoughts, challenging them and replacing them with thoughts that help change your emotions and behaviors in positive ways.  

The most helpful way to use this log is to complete the log by starting from your unwanted behavior.  Did you yell at your child when you wished you would’ve responded patiently?   As you begin to log,  you will begin by identifying the activating event ( ie. You yelled at your child when they were having a tantrum). From there, you’ll rewind your mental tape, pause the roll and ask yourself, “What did I believe about myself or others in that moment?” Or ‘What future am I envisioning as a result of this belief?”  If it’s catastrophic, ask yourself the question, “Is that the only way it could turn out?”  The possible alternative endings to your story are the answers to the “Alternative Thoughts/ Dispute” category. Changing how you think will change how you feel and, eventually, how you act. 

Here’s a sample log from one of the aforementioned beliefs.

Situation: “I yelled at my kid” 

Automatic Thought/ Belief: “I’m a bad parent” 

Emotion: Shame or Blame. Future-telling: “My child will never respect me or others.”

Alternative Thought: “The best way for my child to learn how to fix their mistakes is to observe me fixing mine. All is not lost.  I’ll go apologize and teach my child how to own their mistakes in the process.”

Outcome: Re-framing a difficult moment into a positive opportunity for growth.

When should you complete this log?  When it works for you!  Some people find it helpful to do in the moment, others take breaks throughout the day to log.  Remember: The best thought log exercise is the one you will do. Feel free to personalize this log for your specific needs. 

ABCDE Thought Journal

Date + TimeSituation (Activating Event)Automatic Thought / BeliefEmotions that Arose/ Actions (Consequences)Alternative Thoughts (Dispute)Outcome (New Effect)

Situation (Activating Event): What happened? What triggered your thought? Automatic Thought (Belief): What story are you telling yourself about this

situation? What future are you envisioning?

Emotions that Arose/ Actions Taken (Consequences): What did you feel or do as a result of that thought?

Alternative Thought (Dispute): Examine the thought and determine if it’s rational or irrational, helpful or unhelpful. Replace the unhelpful thought with a new, helpful thought. Re-write the story and, if necessary, make friends with the uncertainty.

Outcome (New Effect): What has changed in your emotions and actions since choosing the new cognition (thought)?

For more detailed information about how to implement this in your own life, check out the episode “Be Your Own Therapist” on the Positive Talk Podcast.