The Never Ending Triad

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Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

In this series, we will be reviewing the “Treatments That Work” workbook, “Overcoming Depression.” The intention will be to highlight key skills that can be helpful in easing the difficulties experienced from depression. As a recap, BEAST is the mnemonic used to not only give a picture of the burden of depression, but also give a framework of how to conquer it. BEAST stands for Body, Emotion, Action, Situation, and Thoughts.

We have spent the last few posts reviewing how depression affects and is affected by your sleep habits, medication or substance use, nutrition, and physical activity. In this post, we will dive into the E component of BEAST, Emotions. In this segment we will review the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy, build our vocabulary for feelings, and understand the difference between thoughts and feelings.

The meat and potatoes of cognitive behavioral therapy, the basis of the skills in this series, is the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thoughts are a belief or an opinion, feelings are emotions or reactions, and behaviors are your actions. Look below for more formal definitions. To explain how these relate to each other, we will do a little art project.

Draw a triangle.

Write the words “thoughts”, “feelings”, and “behaviors” at each corner.

Draw arrows along the sides.

Draw arrows in the opposite direction that are parallel to the first arrows. Viola! A beautiful CBT triad.

Uh… What does this mean? Let’s start at the top and follow the arrows. Your thoughts influence your feelings, your feelings influence your behaviors, and your behaviors influence your thoughts. You can start at any corner and go in any direction. Let’s start at a different corner and direction for an example. Let’s start at feelings and go in the opposite direction. Your feelings affect your thoughts, your thoughts affect your behaviors, and your behaviors affect your feelings. This happens a lot in depression. Sometimes the feeling of depression comes first. You’re not able to identify a cause. Nevertheless, when you’re depressed, you’re less likely to form positive thoughts. Your friend is angry and you may start to think:

“I’m a bad friend.”

“They hate me.”

” I’m inadequate.”

” I’m a failure.”

Whether or not this is true, your behaviors will be affected. You may avoid that friend, lash out at that friend, or end the relationship. All that isolation and turmoil feeds your depressed mood and the cycle continues. What a cycle of madness?! The goal will be to change the cycle by targeting thoughts and behaviors. Of the three, thoughts and behaviors are the two that we can challenge or control the most. We can regain control. Over the next week, think about other examples in your life that are reflected in this triad. Jot them down using the triangle. Don’t spend too much time thinking about how the cycle can be changed. For now, recognise that this triad exists. We will focus on how to challenge the triad in future posts.

thought (noun)
\ ˈthȯt \
1: something that is thought: such as
c: something (such as an opinion or belief) in the mind

feeling (noun)
\ ˈfē-liŋ \
2a: an emotional state or reaction

emotion (noun)
\ i-ˈmō-shən \
1a: a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body

behavior (noun)
\ bi-ˈhā-vyər , bē- \
1: the way in which someone conducts oneself or behaves

behave (verb)
\ bi-ˈhāv , bē- \
1: to manage the actions of (oneself) in a particular way

“Thought.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.

“Feeling.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.

“Emotion.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.

“Behavior.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.

“Behave.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.

The skills in this blog post were adapted from :

Gilson, M., & Freeman, A. (2009). Overcoming Depression: A Cognitive Therapy Approach Therapist Guide. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved from