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Mind Over Mood

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lots of us here are fans of Dr, Judith S. Beck's great book, "The Beck Diet Solution: train your brain to think like a thin person". She applies techniques from cognitive therapy (originally developed by her father, Dr. Aaron Beck) to weight loss and weight loss maintenance. They work: there's a whole "Beck team" here which attests to their efficacy!

Beyond weight loss, I've also found techniques of cognitive therapy very helpful in dealing with "mood"; stress generally and of course just the anxiety and worry and sadness that arise from the situations we live through and the experiences we've had in the past.

Riffing on these Beck cognitive therapy techniques, Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky have written a great workbook called "Mind Over Mood: change how you feel by changing the way you think".

In a nutshell, Greenberger/Padesky set out a series of sequential exercises based upon the concept of the "thought record". The idea is to:

1. identify the situation giving rise to the mood (the who, what, where, when);

2. identify the mood itself (fear, anger, anxiety, sadness etc.) and rank the intensity of the mood (100% depressed? 40% irritable?)

3. identify the automatic thoughts triggered by the situation and the mood (what was going through my mind, what am I afraid might happen, what memories are triggered etc.) and in particular the "hot thought" that gives rise to the mood ("nobody cares about me", "the emotional pain is unbearable", "I'm having a heart attack" etc.)

4. consider the evidence that supports the "hot thought" (without "mind reading" by attributing the response of the non-caring person who may simply be preoccupied, and without subjective "interpretation" of facts such as "heart racing, sweaty" etc.)

5. consider the evidence that does NOT support the "hot thought" (what experiences have I had that don't support that "hot thought", what would my best friend tell me, what have I learned from prior experience in comparable situations etc.)

6. consider an alternative or more balanced thought, summarizing all the evidence both supporting the "hot thought" and not supporting that "hot thought", and taking into consideration what's the worst possible outcome, best possible outcome and most realistic or likely outcome; and finally

7. re-evaluate the mood (sadness, grief etc.) and its intensity after going through the exercise. If I was feeling 40% irritable before, is that now reduced to 20%? If the negative mood is not diminished, do I need to reconsider the evidence supporting the hot thought, both positive and negative? Is there a deeper-rooted "core thought" or assumption that I need to address? Will I need to change the situation before I can change the mood?

This is not a "power of positive thinking" Pollyanna type of exercise. It's not a willed suppression of all negative thoughts. At stage 6, it's an exercise in balancing the positive and the negative evidence supporting the "hot thought", and there's not an expectation at stage 7 that the negative mood will have been utterly vanquished and replaced with a mood of blissful euphoria.

It's more along the lines of strength training. One set of bicep curls doesn't produce Obama arms. Over a period of six weeks, with appropriate diet and cardio -- the guns begin to emerge! Reading about weight lifting doesn't have an effect: watching exercise videos doesn't have an effect. Lifting the weights -- yup.

And so too with the Mind over Mood exercise. First published in 1995, this book has been hugely popular, with over 800,000 copies in print. The sequential exercises sound a bit complicated but in fact it's like learning any new skill -- driving or keyboarding or public speaking. You get better with practice. And mood benefits accrue even if you don't practice the skills perfectly.

When I'm noticing a blip upwards in weight -- I reach for my Beck cards and take care to track nutrition and exercise with renewed vigilance.

When I'm dealing with stress, I reach for Mind Over Mood and give myself a refresher course!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Stopping to think would be much better than reaching for the fridge or the box of snack crackers - the reaction to stress that I constantly must overcome.
    1642 days ago
  • _LINDA
    Essentially we need to do more thinking and less reacting. I love the idea of analyzing the 'hot thoughts' and cooling them down to a tolerable level.
    Sounds like both these books should be a must read for anyone wanting to lose or maintain weight..
    Thank you for the summary of this technique!
    Brain food!
    1644 days ago
    Interesting I would read your blog on a difficult day :) I'm very familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy..totally believe in it. I agree a zillion percent that if you're not willing..nothing will change. Sometimes the situations seem too big to change..however often for me if some little things improve...my life improves. Thanks for reminding me too keep trying and to always be willing. Hugs to you Ellen!
    1644 days ago
    I like Dr Lows method to changing your thinking better; which can be applied to any human behavior.... Like ...:"Feelings are not alway facts! " And I understand Cognitive therapy.... talk therapy! It does NOT always work unless you do understand psychology! Shrinks have a habit of making things more complicated than need be! But if it works for you, go for it!

    Not everyone understands how the Human psyche works and thereby fail to see or percieve how to change. and even the smartest and astute student of psychology cant change someone whose not prepared to change or recognize the need for a change in ones thinking! Good luck! susana emoticon
    1644 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/21/2013 6:48:32 PM
    Very timely! Thanks for the work of inputting this.
    1645 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Thanks for for this info. Yes it does take practice and the good news is that we can do it.
    1645 days ago
  • KANOE10
    That looks like an excellent tool. I really like the concept of finding the hotspot and then finding the evidence that does support it..and then again looking at the evidence that does not support it. This forces you to consider all sides of an issue and maybe come up with a more realistic interpretation.

    Thanks for sharing. I am going to track down the book. I have been a Beck fan and found her positive internal comments were very helpful in dealing with overeating.

    1645 days ago
    Thx as always for your smart reminders, Ellen! CBT has been a solid, evidence-based practice for a long time!

    1645 days ago
    1645 days ago
  • DALID414
    I could have used this to get through my week, but I can use it from today on. Thanks.
    1645 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    It is awesome blogs like this that make me so grateful to have discovered SP. Thank you for sharing this.
    1645 days ago
    The process sounds very rational and analytical, which I think is the best way to approach a mood - something that can be purely emotional.

    It sounds like a strategy that's good to have in our bag of tricks for when the wrong mood strikes.

    Thanks for the information.

    And I hope your recent stress and your current mood yield to your analytical skills and you are feeling back to normal soon.

    1646 days ago
    I can see the similarities between the two books.

    Reacting rationally always leads to a better result. #6 is excellent -- there is almost always an "alternative or more balanced thought".

    I can see how "Mind over Mood" is an excellent tool in the arsenal of weight control as well as the Beck book!
    1646 days ago
    This works but sometimes when you need it the most it's the hardest to remember to do. Too easy to fall back into bad habits. Reminders like yours can make all the difference. Thanks.
    1646 days ago
    I think both those books should go on my reading list...
    1646 days ago
    Good job and thanks for sharing. Another great tool to add to the kit!
    1646 days ago
    Thanks for this great review of the book and summary of the technique. Why, I think I could do it without even reading the book now, but perhaps I should check it out.

    Wishing that all the hot thoughts in your life cool. I can see where you would be very good at building the case on both sides and then rationally dealing with situations and the arising feelings.

    We can't avoid stress, but we sure can learn to handle it, can't we? .....even without food!! -Marsha
    1646 days ago
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