The cognitive triangle is a tool used in mental health treatment to identify and change irrational thoughts. Many mental health disorders occur due to the development of irrational thinking. The rationality of thoughts particularly influences anxiety disorders, depression and personality disorders. Many individuals who suffer from these disorders want to change the feelings and behaviors associated with them -- such as crying, sadness and worrying -- without realizing that it is their thoughts that actually are behind these feelings and behaviors. Learning how to identify irrational thoughts can significantly aid in the treatment of these disorders.
Draw a triangle. Label the inside of the top vertex "thought." Moving clockwise, label the inside of the next vertex "feeling" and the inside of the last vertex "actions/behavior." Labeling the inside of each vertex allows more room for further writing outside the triangle.
Write a recent event, called a "triggering event," in a corner of the page. The event should be a single, innocuous event. An example is "I saw an acquaintance at the store and he did not wave."
Write a thought related to the triggering event outside the triangle vertex labeled "thought." Write something you really believe you would think in this situation. An example is "He must not like me."
Write a feeling related to the thought outside the triangle vertex labeled "feeling." Write something you really believe you would feel given that thought. Examples are "disappointed," "angry" or "lonely."
Write an action or behavior related to the feeling outside the triangle vertex labeled "action/behavior." Write something you really believe you would do based on that feeling. Examples are "cry," "confront him" or "walk away slowly."
Compare the thought, feeling and action/behavior presented in your cognitive triangle to the triggering event. Continuing with our example, thinking someone does not like you, feeling disappointed and crying because he did not wave may be extreme responses to the triggering event and indicative of irrational thinking.
Erase the illogical thought. Change it to one that will lead to a more pleasant feeling and more acceptable behavior. For example, logical thoughts to change could be "Maybe he did not see me" or "Maybe he was in a hurry."
Complete the cognitive triangle with the appropriate feeling and action/behavior.