Behavioural experiments are just ways of testing out thoughts and beliefs through action. They have that name because they are like scientific experiments, only instead of testingn out a scientific theory you are testing out your own thoughts or beliefs . The point is that whilst thinking and talking about negative automatic thoughts can undoubtedly be very useful often the best way to prove something to yourself is to do something , not just think about it .
Mark Twaiun, the American writer of Huckleberry Finn and other books , is supposed to have once said,” A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way .” In other words , real experiences can give us information that no amount of talk can provide. There are two main areas where this kind of approach can be helpful.
First, as we noticed above, there can be times when you just don’t have enough good factual evidence to come to a decision about whether a particular negative thought or belief is accurate or not. For example , suppose Carol is thinking she is a bad mother because she sometimes gets cross and shouts at her children. It might be helpful to know whether this is unusual or whether all parents do that from time to time . But unless she has happened to see such incidents , or has talked to other parents about them , she may no know how other people react. So a useful behavioural experiment might be to set out to talk to or observe other parents and find out the facts. We sometimes call this kind of experiment a ”survey” experiment because it involves surveying what other people think or do.
The second use of behavioural experiments is to use real life to test out negative automatic thoughts versus althernative thoughts , to see which seems to be more accurate or to work best . For example, suppose that whilst reading this article you have been having common negative automative thoughts such as” It won’t work for me.” You might have recognised that as a negative automatic thought , and you might have come up with some alternative thought such as ” Maybe it will work if I try.” How can you tell which of these thoughts is right?
The best way might be to set up a behavioural experiment – don’t just guess , but try it out in action. Using this approach you don’t have to rely on just faith or hope- you can show yourself what the answers is . How might you do that?
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