by Alex, Recovery Coach
Have you ever had a thought that prevented you from going to that party, or from doing that thing you wanted to do because you thought that something bad would happen? Sure, we all have, but why do we believe that? What evidence do we have? We usually don’t get that far in the questioning, do we? We had an emotional “gut” feeling that we believed to be true despite there being no evidence to support it.

In L.I.F.Eboat the other day, we discussed the idea of considering ourselves as a detective and a lawyer when employing the Detective Work and Disputation method. Detective work is the act of looking for evidence that supports and doesn’t support our thoughts, much like a detective. Disputation is the act of challenging a belief of something that we think is true, much like a lawyer.

When we are being a detective, here are some questions that we should ask ourselves:
• What is the evidence (or proof) that my thoughts/beliefs are true?
• Is there any evidence that disproves my thoughts/beliefs?
• How do I know that my thoughts/beliefs are true?
• Are there facts that I’m ignoring or I’ve overlooked?
• What other explanations could there possibly be?
• How realistic are my thoughts, beliefs, and expectations?
When we are being a lawyer, here are some questions that we should ask ourselves:
• What other ways are there of viewing the situation?
• How might someone else view the situation?
• If I were not depressed, how might I view the situation differently?
• Realistically, what is the likelihood of that happening?
• Is it helpful for me to think this way?

Detective work and disputation are ways that we can be objective about our thoughts. Analyzing, assessing, and evaluating our thoughts is helpful to see if they are valid and true, as opposed to accepting them and believing them without question.
So the next time you find yourself having an automatic thought (also known as a hot thought) that you assume to be true, take a few moments to write your thought down and examine the evidence. There are several steps to do this.

  • What is the Activating Event?
    • This could be an actual event or a situation, a thought, a mental picture or recollection.
  • What are the Consequences?
    • Write down words that describe how you are feeling.
    • Underline the one that is most associated with the activating event.
    • Rate the intensity of the feeling (0 to 100).
    • Write down any physical sensations you experienced or actions carried out.
  • What are your beliefs?
    • List all statements that link the Activating Event to the Consequences.
    • Ask yourself: “What was I thinking?” “What was I saying to myself?” “What was going through my mind at the time?”
    • Find the most distressing hot thought and underline it, then rate how much you believe this thought from 0 to 100.
  • Can you recognize any unhelpful thinking patterns like these?
    • Are you jumping to conclusions? (Mind reading and predictive thinking)
    • Are you ignoring all of the positive things and focusing only on the negative things? (Mental Filter)
    • Are you dreading the worst possible outcome? (Catastrophizing)
    • These are only a few unhelpful thinking styles. If you can recognize these thought patterns, you’ll be able to analyze and evaluate your thoughts better.

So, the main takeaway message is this: Don’t believe everything that you think. Do some detective work to see the situation from different angles and dispute the hot thoughts to get a better grasp on things. You’ll feel a lot better once you have.


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