BLUE Your Thoughts

This abbreviated version of cognitive behavioral therapy is effective—changing your thoughts by pointing out inaccuracies and correcting them. This is known as the BLUE process: “B” stands for blaming myself, “L” is looking for bad news, “U” means unhappy guessing, and “E” represents exaggeratedly negative thoughts. Once you identify which of those you are engaging in, you then replace the BLUE thought with a true thought—one representative of reality.

Changing your beliefs is no walk in the park. Beliefs, especially those related to assertiveness, are often intertwined so intricately with your personal history, critical experiences, and general temperament that they tend to be melded with who you are. In a sense, you behave according to what you think, you think according to what you’ve experienced, and you become what you believe.

And because it’s so hard to separate who you are from what you believe, a task like changing the entire flooring of your house might in fact be way easier than changing your beliefs. Hard labor is relatively easy to do because it’s external to you, more concrete, and more controllable—and thus also requires less willpower and discipline on your part. But changing your beliefs? That poses a more difficult challenge. Trying to change what you think about the world and about yourself requires you to deal with something internal, abstract, and fluid, not to mention needing a high level of self-awareness and enormous amounts of focus and devotion. \pIt’s probably an understatement to say that your thoughts are difficult to control. For instance, if I told you not to think about an elephant with its long trunk, huge flapping ears, cylindrical feet, and branch-like tail—are you successfully not thinking about an elephant?

One of the most-trusted and proven ways to change your beliefs is by using the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This method posits that you can change the way you behave by changing the way you think. Basically, through CBT you learn to be more aware of the kinds of thoughts you have, hone your ability to differentiate between distorted and realistic thoughts, and work to replace your distorted thoughts with realistic ones. This is the standard accepted practice for the majority of counselling and talk psychology and psychiatry, and has shown far greater efficacy than medication.

The BLUE model is a specific CBT strategy developed by PracticeWise to help counter negative thinking. BLUE is an acronym that stands for the kind of extremely negative thoughts you should recognize in yourself when they do pop into your head.

“B” stands for blaming myself, “L” is looking for bad news, “U” means unhappy guessing, and “E” represents exaggeratedly negative thoughts. Below is an explanation of each of these thoughts and how they manifest here in particular.

Blaming myself. There is a difference between being accountable for your actions and wallowing in excessive self-blame. This point is all about detecting when you’ve fallen to the trap of the latter. Extreme self-blame begins to breed in your mind when you start thinking ‘It’s all my fault’ or ‘I’ve absolutely messed everything up.’ While taking responsibility is a mature and commendable act, unduly blaming yourself for every bad thing that happens is simply counterproductive and has even been linked to mental health problems such as depression.

In this book’s context, you’re likely to have thoughts of excessive self-blame after a half-hearted attempt at putting yourself first. When you refuse your sister’s request to babysit for her, you may start to feel guilty when she begins to talk about how much trouble it would be for her to find a babysitter. You think that it’s definitely your fault she would have to go through all that trouble if you decline. So you oblige, because you feel the weight of blame for things not going as smoothly if you did otherwise.

Looking for bad news. It’s a common tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive. If you’ve just been given nine compliments and one negative comment about your presentation at work, chances are you’ll be dwelling on that single criticism and beating yourself up for it. Be wary of thoughts that look for the bad news in every situation, because such thoughts are sure to distort your outlook for the worse. You have become excellent at finding a dark consequence for a happy occurrence, even if it is imagined and outlandish.

Such thoughts may manifest as a focus on the negative consequences of standing up for yourself. When you refuse a friend’s party invitation, your mind zeroes in on the thought that refusing might cause your friend to harbor ill feelings toward you. You deemphasize all the positives of that refusal, such as getting your work done and getting to rest, because your mind has latched on to that single negative consequence of upsetting your friend. And so you end up prioritizing what your friend wants instead of putting yourself first in that situation.

Unhappy guessing. This points to the thought that things are going to turn out bad in the future. Even though there is no way you can know what will happen, you predict the worst outcomes. The anxiety and panic that such a thought then rouses can rattle you enough to turn your prediction into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have an all-important test to ace but you keep telling yourself, “It’s going to be a disaster,” and fret about it so much you can no longer think straight, then you’re playing right into disaster’s hands.

Exaggeratedly negative. There are thoughts that completely color everything black, and you should be on the lookout for those. They may sound something like ‘Everything about this trip sucks’ or ‘Nothing ever goes right in my life.’ Exaggeratedly negative thoughts suck out all hope and bring only regret and fear, making it all that much harder for you to start moving toward more productive ends.

Recognizing when BLUE thoughts occur in your mind is only the first step toward changing them. The next step is to replace those BLUE thoughts with true thoughts. While BLUE thoughts are biased toward negativity and catastrophe, true thoughts are more positive and realistic. True thoughts help you have a fairer perspective and guide you toward taking positive actions instead of just wallowing in self-pity and defeat. Though they are objectively more realistic, you might have trouble seeing them as realistic because of how negative you tend to be.

Say you have a BLUE thought that goes, ‘If I skip this PTA meeting so I can have my migraine checked first, it means I’m a bad parent.’ First, you need to recognize that such a thought is exaggeratedly negative and needs to be replaced with a more realistic true thought. To think up a true thought, Amy Morin suggests asking what you would say to a friend who presented you with such a dilemma. Would you tell your friend that missing the meeting would mean they’re a bad parent? Probably not.

Instead, you would probably tell them, “It’s better to have your migraine checked first, because you can’t be a good parent if you end up becoming too sick to care for your family. Missing one meeting wouldn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Besides, you wouldn’t be able to be fully present at that meeting with a migraine anyway.” Now think those thoughts for yourself as you wish your friend would for themselves. Practicing that will steer you away from self-destructive people-pleasing behaviors and toward a healthier relationship with yourself and others.

As discussed, there are four primary beliefs: (1) the belief that you live only to please and serve others, (2) the belief that you’re unworthy of love as you are, (3) the belief that asserting yourself means you’re a bad person, and (4) the belief that it’s always better to just go along with others. What true thoughts can we create for those beliefs?