This morning I spilled coffee all over myself in the car. Ahh, you always do that! You’re so stupid. I said to myself. It was only 7:50am and I was already feeling a bit angry.
Normally, I’d go on about my day, leaving off from that feeling of frustration and anger, and moving on, not really thinking about how that experience would affect the rest of my day or potentially further.
But there’s this thing called the Cognitive Triangle. My therapist told me about it. It’s for people like me (and maybe you) — people who can easily spiral downward by default. Those of us who get in our heads a little too much sometimes.
The Cognitive Triangle looks like this. I’ll draw if for you…
Basically, the idea is that our thoughts, feelings, and actions play off of each other. Honestly, half the problem is just recognizing that. Remembering that truth in the moment. Because remembering is what pulls your brain out of default mode, spiraling.
Here, let me go back to the example from this morning.
I spilled my coffee.
Ahh, you always do that! You’re so stupid.
In that moment, had I not stopped for a second to think about the Cognitive Triangle, I could have easily let that experience fester and let future experiences build upon it, or even let it dictate future events, soon becoming an even bigger problem.
For example, feeling a bit angry about spilling the coffee could have easily carried over to returning home and being short with my wife (action). Or thinking that people will notice my coffee stained shirt (thought), which leads to feeling anxious about a meeting I have to attend, which leads to me speeding home to change shirts (action), which leads to another thought, I’m going to be late for my meeting, which leads to more anxiety (feeling), which leads to etcetera, etcetera.
You get the picture.
Anyway… I hope the next time you stub your toe, have a negative thought, or feel anxious, you remember the Cognitive Triangle. It’s saved me a number of times from spiraling out of control.