Cognitive Triangle & Action Cake
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on the relationship among cognition (thoughts), behaviors, and feelings. The cognitive triangle often is used in therapy when teaching about how to change difficult thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Here is a picture of the triangle:
Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are inter-related, so if we're having problems with one, we're likely to be having problems in the others. Likewise, if we make changes in one, we're likely to make changes in the others. For example, if I wake up and think, "Today is going to be the worst day of my life," I probably will feel discouraged, sad, and unmotivated, and I likely will not get work done and snap at others.
If you are having problems in one of these areas, then look at how you're thinking or behaving, and try to make changes in those areas. Taking the example above, instead of thinking each morning that the day is going to be awful, I could think of something I do like about my day ("I might not like getting out of bed, but that hot shower is going to feel so good.") This change of thought is small, but can make a huge difference in how you feel and act.
An alternative way to to show the interaction of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is to use the Action Cake. The Action Cake focuses more on thoughts, and I find that people's thoughts usually are what's causing problems for them. Here is a picture of the Action Cake:
A person experiences a situation. The way that person thinks about the situation affects how she feels; how she feels affects what she does; and what she does affects what she gets. For example, a person walks past a couple people talking in the hallway at work, and those people start laughing as soon as the person walks by. That is the situation. The person thinks, "Oh my gosh, those people are laughing at me! What did I do wrong?" That person feels embarrassed, goes back to his office, shuts the door, and doesn't do any work the rest of the day because he keeps reliving that situation in his head, which leads to some negative consequences at work. With the action cake, a person can think back on a situation and determine how he could have thought differently in order to feel differently, act differently, and get a different outcome. Instead of the person thinking that people were laughing at him, he could have thought they were sharing a funny story, which means he probably wouldn't have felt embarrassed, wouldn't have been unproductive (at least not because of that), and wouldn't have had negative consequences at work.
If you are having emotional and/or behavioral problems and you want to make changes, ask yourself 2 questions about your thoughts:
1. Is this thought accurate?
- Many times there is a lack of evidence to support our thoughts (e.g. "Those
people are laughing at me!"
Really, what's the evidence to support that thought?).
2. Is this thought helpful to me?
- Maybe there is evidence to support the thought, but thinking it over and
over may not be helpful.
If you've determined that your thoughts are not accurate and/or unhelpful, then you actively must change your thought. You can tweak the thought a little so it's not totally different, as in the example with the cognitive triangle, or you can change the thought totally to something else. This, of course, is easier said that done, so you must practice this daily, just as you would practice playing the piano or basketball. In order to practice, look at the cognitive triangle or the action cake and think back on a situation where you didn't like the outcome. Think about what you were thinking, how you were feeling, and what you were doing. Now think about what other thoughts you could have had about that situation, then think about how you would have felt, what you would have done, and what you would have gotten. The more you practice, the better will become at being able to be in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Erica L. Daniels, LPCC-S