Cognitive Behavioral Techniques? Huh?

You know how your mom used to tell you, ‘You are what you eat?’ Well, here’s another one. ‘You are what you think.’ O.k, I can already hear a lot of you. “Oh oh, I’m in trouble.” And you’re right. You are. But this is just where cognitive behavioral techniques come in.

What are cognitive behavioral techniques? Simply, they are techniques that help you to pay attention to the kind of messages you give yourself daily and the behaviors you engage in based on these messages.

So what do I mean?

All day long, we humans play tapes in our head. Word tapes. Commentary on everything we do. A woman walks onto a plane and thinks, ‘That guy is checking me out.’ Or she thinks, ‘Bet all these people think I’m fat.’ A guy goes in for a job interview and thinks, ‘This guy can smell my fear. He knows how bad I need this job.’ Or a guy paces in front of the phone, afraid to make the call. He thinks, ‘She’ll never go out with me. She’s hot and I’m a dork.’

Much of what we say to ourselves is horrible. If someone else said it, we’d never talk to that person again. But this is us, and we’re great at being brutal to ourselves.

Cognitive Behavioral therapy teaches us to change how we think by teaching us to talk back to ourselves realistically. It allows us to see that a lot of what we tell ourselves is over-the-top, negative, and plain untrue. It teaches us that while we think that others are making all these judgments about us, that usually is not true. Most people are so busy thinking about themselves, they don’t think much about anyone else. And if they do, they are usually not as harsh on us as we are on ourselves. In the tough critic category, we are champs. In short, cognitive behavioral techniques teach us to change how we think. These techniques are an A-1 treatment for depression.

So how does all this work? Learning to talk back to your automatic thoughts is the biggie. In his seminal work Feeling Good, David Burns talks about cognitive distortions such as “All or Nothing Thinking,” “Catastrophizing” and “Jumping to Conclusions.” 

In my book If I Could Just Snap Out of It, Don’t You Think I Would? I, too, talk about these techniques, although I give them different names. I start with the technique I think is most important: talking back to your automatic thoughts.

As I see it, there are five steps to the talking-back process. These five steps are: 1) Recording your automatic thought 2)Talking-back to your thought 3)Asking ‘What is a more reasonable thing to say to myself?’ 4)Asking ‘What message am I trying to give myself?’ and 5)Asking ‘What do I want to do about my message?’

After all these questions are answered (and I’m going to give you a thorough example from my book of how this works) people then create a detailed, two-week plan on how to accomplish the goal they have decided upon. The result: a sizable inroad into the treatment of depression. O.k, enough in the abstract. Let’s see how the cognitive behavioral techniques actually work as a treatment for depression. Go to

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques in Action There are other cognitive technique too. They, too, will help you change how you think. For more information on them, go to More Cognitive Techniques