Chapter 9. Thought Insertion Copy

Illustration of Nelson inserting a train car representing a positive thought
Nelson inserting a positive thought

“We only have one final tool to go over—also for thoughts—then we’ll quickly go over the schedule of when you should practice, and then you’ll be done. Does that sound okay?”

Nelson gives you a thumbs-up. “Sounds good to me.”

“For this last exercise, we’re going to use this worksheet.”

You pull out two paper copies, hand one to Nelson, and arrange the other for yourself on your clipboard.

“This one’s called the thought insertion technique. Every time we find ourselves having a negative thought, we have the power to insert a positive thought right after, to break up the chain of negative thoughts.”

Nelson looks puzzled, his head cocked to the side. You hold your sheet up.

“Let’s look at the example on this page. I’m going to read the bottom part, and you tell me what you think this person might be feeling.”

Nelson looks down at his sheet of paper.

“‘I got an F,’” you begin. ‘“I am dumb. No wonder I have no friends. I’m such a loser.’”

You look up at Nelson whose gaze is fixed on his worksheet.

“What do you think this person is feeling?”

Nelson lets out a laugh that sounds closer to a scoff. “Feels like me, probably. Just crappy all the time!”

“I agree,” you say with a nod. “It’s pretty bad, huh? Now let’s look at the example again, but this time we’ll insert some positive thoughts, almost as if we’re interrupting each negative thought.”

“What do you mean by that?” Nelson asks.

“Like this: ‘I got an F. I got a C+ last week. I’m dumb. I do well in some classes. No wonder I have no friends. I do have Tina and John as good friends. I’m such a loser. I am good in sports.’”

“Oh, I see,” Nelson responds. “It…does sound like he’s feeling less crappy. More hopeful, perhaps.”

“That’s exactly right, Nelson. This exercise is very helpful for when you feel crappy like this. You can change the way you feel by inserting and reminding yourself of these positive thoughts. Let’s try with another example, except this time we’ll use a situation more directly associated with you.”

“Okay,” Nelson says with a calm nod.

“Can you think of another slightly upsetting situation that happened to you in the past?”

“I missed a goal and my team lost the game,” Nelson replies. 

“What did you think when that happened?” you ask him. 

Nelson rolls his eyes and leans back. “I felt like such an idiot. I remember avoiding my coach and my team for a while. I practiced a lot when I was alone, and I just kept to myself, mostly.”

“So that’s how you felt. What did you think? Why did you avoid everyone?”

“I don’t know,” Nelson shrugs. “I was scared my coach would think I’m not good enough to be on the team, that it was my fault we lost. I was scared I’d get cut from the team.”

“Okay, let’s write that one down in the first box,” you declare. “‘I’m not good enough in soccer.’ Now can you think of a positive thought for that?”

Nelson glances around the room, completely lost in his own head racking his memory for an example. He then looks down at his hands and shakes his head.

“Was there ever a time,” you ask carefully, “you performed really well for your team?”

Nelson’s eyes suddenly widen, and he sits straight up.

“Oh, how could I forget!” he exclaims. “In the last game before I hurt my leg, I ended up scoring a hat trick! We blew the other team out of the water.”

You laugh heartily and begin pointing to Nelson’s worksheet. “Okay, let’s definitely write that one down in the positive box. ‘I scored a hat trick in my last game.’ That’s a good one.”

Nelson, with renewed energy, begins writing furiously.

“And let’s not forget our other negative thought: ‘It was my fault that we lost.’”

“Oh, yeah,” Nelson mutters to himself.

“Is there a positive thought for that one?”

“Hmm, let me think.” Nelson taps a finger against his lips and glances around the room once more. All of a sudden he raises his finger, mouth agape, as if a lightbulb just went on in his head.

“If Carlos didn’t get the red card!” he cries. “I missed a goal, but the game would’ve turned out totally differently if our defender didn’t get a red card—we were down a man and we couldn’t defend anything! That cost us the game more than anything.”

“There you go!” you cry in return. “Let’s write that down. Can you think of one more positive thought that will go with Carlos’s red card?”

“What was the negative thought again?” Nelson asks. This sudden inability, a sure sign of progress, makes you smile.

“That it was your fault your team lost.”

This time, Nelson is not so deliberate in producing a response. “Now that I think about it, I have won more games than I’ve lost with my team. Last year I even got an individual trophy!”

“I think you’re getting the hang of this!” you exclaim. “Write that down.”

Nelson eagerly writes this on his worksheet. When he finishes, he slams the pencil down victoriously and you two high-five.

“These are two tools that can help you when you have anxious thoughts. They’ll help you examine them and consider other perspectives, which is always helpful when you’re stuck in a cycle of negative thinking.”

“It’s crazy,” Nelson says with a laugh, “I couldn’t even remember what my last negative thought was!”

Other prompts to consider using:

  • Inverse process: start with positive thoughts, then ask about negative thoughts
  • Draw thought bubbles: imagine positive and negative thoughts for a fictional child. Here’s an example: Imagine a child is at the amusement park and about to go on a rollercoaster…
    • What might be a not-so-good thought that the child can have?
      • Oh, this is gonna be scary, I’m gonna throw up.
    • And what might be a more helpful thought of this situation?
      • “Oh, this might be a lot of fun!”
      • I can go with my friends”
      • I am a big kid because I get to go to the roller coaster!
  • Tic-tac-toe: for children who cannot understand the concept of positive thoughts. List thoughts that happened throughout the day and put an X for negative and O for positive