The Thought Bank


A collection of thoughts or beliefs that cause a person distress.

Cindy came to me because she was feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
with her life.

     Chana: What’s upsetting you?

     Cindy: I’m really frustrated with homemaking.

     Chana: What about homemaking frustrates you?

     Cindy: Well, I want my house to be well kept, but I resent all the work involved.

     Chana: What about the work do you resent?

     Cindy: I don’t know… Just everything! Everything about keeping my house together annoys me these days.

Because of Cindy’s lack of specificity, I decide it would be best to give her cues, the first words of a belief for her to complete. Cues can help clarify what we really believe. To get everything out on paper quickly, I suggest we build a Thought Bank on the topic of homemaking. I ask Cindy to complete the following sentences:

Cleaning is _____________________________________________
Cleaning should be _____________________________________
In regards to housekeeping, I should _______________________
Cooking is ______________________________________________
Cooking should be ______________________________________
In regards to cooking, I should _____________________________
I shouldn’t have to ______________________________________
Being a homemaker means _______________________________
As a homemaker, I should _______________________________

Cindy was able to focus on completing the sentences and was no longer distracted by the mess in her head about the mess in her house. Here are some of her beliefs:

Cleaning is a chore.
Cleaning should be easy.
I shouldn’t have to pick up after everyone.
Cooking should be fun.
Cooking is overwhelming.
Being a homemaker means putting everyone else first.
As a homemaker, I should always have a smile on my face.

In about fifteen minutes, Cindy and I have built a Thought Bank we can use for numerous sessions.

     Chana: (after rereading the list to Cindy) Now do you understand why you’re so resentful?

     Cindy: Oh yeah! It’s kind of hard not to be frustrated when this is what I have inside.

     Chana: Exactly. Now let’s take another look at your list. Which thought feels the truest and at the same time the most upsetting?

     Cindy: Being a homemaker means putting everyone else first.

     Chana: Being a homemaker means putting everyone else first. Is it true?

     Cindy: Yes.

     Chana: Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

     Cindy: It sure feels like it, yes.

     Chana: And how do you react when you believe that being a homemaker means putting everyone else first?

     Cindy: I feel rebellious. I want to fight everyone and everything.

     Chana: Anything else?

     Cindy: I get tired. And really lazy.

     Chana: What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t believe the thought?

     Cindy: That I wouldn’t get anything done. That I’d just sit and watch garbage on TV all day.

     Chana: Does believing the thought motivate you to get stuff done?

     Cindy: Oh….

     Chana: Why did you just say that?

     Cindy: I just realized it’s exactly the opposite of what I was hoping. Believing I have to put everyone else first feels like so much pressure that I hide behind my favorite magazine and put off doing the laundry.

     Chana: Take a deep breath and image yourself in front of the laundry pile without the thought that being a homemaker means putting everyone else first. How would you be without it?

     Cindy: Calmer. The laundry feels less scary, actually.

     Chana: What’s the opposite of being a homemaker means putting everyone else first?

     Cindy: Being a homemaker doesn’t mean putting everyone else first.

     Chana: How is that true?

     Cindy: When I’m sick, the whole house falls apart, so I need to take care of myself.

     Chana: What else?

     Cindy: If I do everything myself, I don’t give my kids the opportunity to help out.

     Chana: What’s a third reason?

     Cindy: If I don’t do this in a balanced way, I’ll be grumpy all the time. I think my kids would rather have a messy house than a grouchy mom. So would my husband, that’s for sure.

Cindy and I explored other turnarounds until she came to see that taking care of herself was the best way she could keep her home a place everyone, including herself, wanted to be. At the beginning of each of our next sessions together, I reread the list to Cindy, and we crossed out the limiting beliefs that no longer resonated. Sometimes we found new beliefs to add to her Thought Bank and wrote those down. Over time, the list dwindled to nothing and we knew our work in this area was done. One desperate housewife, slightly less desperate!

Like your local branch of Citizens Bank has a stockpile of cash to withdraw, your head holds mounds of thoughts about everything. When they’re stuck in your mind, it’s as if they’re locked in the vault. Getting thoughts out on paper is like putting them on the teller’s counter, clearly spread out before you.

A decade ago, a group of my female friends, all moms, got together every week to engage and build skills in Inquiry. Sometimes we focused our energy on facilitating one woman through a specific challenge she was facing in her life. Other times, we wanted to focus on an area affecting all of us, such as motherhood. We started by building a Thought Bank of beliefs we could work on for a few weeks.

In one particular meeting, each of us wrote at the top of our page:

Mothers should _________________________________________
To this, we collectively responded:

Mothers should help kids with homework.
Mothers should be warm.
Mothers should cook healthy meals.
Mothers should smile all the time.
Mothers should enjoy nursing.
Mothers should be patient.
Mothers should love their kids all the time.
Mothers should enjoy playing games.

We quickly gleaned a whole collection of beliefs we could use as fuel for Inquiry. At times, one of us would write something the others hadn’t thought to include, but the minute she said it, we all laughed (or cried) in agreement. Some thoughts made some women stressed, but brought me and others tremendous joy, such as, Mothers should cook healthy meals. I happen to love health, nutrition, and cooking, so it’s a pleasure for me to live that way. For others, the kitchen is a boring or frustrating place, so they felt tremendous frustration when they believed that thought.

One woman, Meredith, was particularly triggered by the thought,“Mothers should enjoy playing games.” We facilitated the Inquiry process with her as a group, which meant that we took turns asking questions or sharing feedback. For the sake of simplicity, I’m gathering all of our voices into one: “Group.”

     Meredith: I can’t stand games.

     Group: So why do you think you should like them?

     Meredith: I don’t know. It’s what kids like.

     Group: Did you like them when you were a kid?

     Meredith: (laughs) No, actually. I’ve never liked them.

     Group: So why do you assume that it’s what kids like?

     Meredith: I guess I always thought I was weird. My family all liked playing games – everyone but me.

     Group: So was it helpful for you growing up to have a mother who believed that, “Mothers should enjoy playing games?”

     Meredith: No. She kept wanting to play with me. It felt like so much pressure. I think she believed kids should enjoy playing games, but that wasn’t me.

     Group: How do you react when you believe it should be you?

     Meredith: I get stiff. My neck gets tight.

     Group: Anything else?

     Meredith: Yeah, it’s like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

     Group: Whose business are you in when you believe you should enjoy playing games? (Your Business is that over which you have total control and power to change. We’ll delve deep into this concept in the chapter There’s No Business Like Your Business.)

     Meredith: It feels like I’m in my business, but really, it’s more like I’m in my kids’ business – like their lives will be ruined if I don’t play with them. I can’t know for sure that playing games is what they need from me.

     Group: Why don’t you try turning it around? What’s the opposite of you should enjoy playing games?

     Meredith: I shouldn’t enjoy playing games.

     Group: Why?

     Meredith: Well, because I don’t.

     Group: Two more reasons…

     Meredith: Because I read to them a lot and maybe if we played together, that wouldn’t happen as much.

     Group: Why else?

     Meredith: I’m stuck. Does anyone have an idea?

     Group: I do. I’ve been trying to teach my preteen to seek outside help when he needs something. I just don’t have time to help him with all his projects. So for me, another reason not to do something your kids like is so they can learn to get their needs met in other ways. I don’t know if it’s healthy to have one person being the address for everything.

     Meredith: I never thought of that. I like it.

     Group: I have another one. I hate it when my mom is fake with me and pretends to take an interest in something she finds dull. I’d rather she say she’s not interested and we can connect on something we both like.

     Meredith: So it’s okay for me not to like playing games?

     Group: Is it the truth?

     Meredith: Yeah.

     Group: That’s the mom your kids got.

     Meredith: It still somehow feels like not enough.

     Group: What’s not enough?

     Meredith: They want to play games and I won’t. I can tell it makes them sad.

     Group: The bigger question is one of creativity. Are you the only way they can get this need met?

     Meredith: Who would play games with my kids?  

     Group: I have an idea. You read to your kids but won’t play games. I hate reading out loud. How about you send your kids to my house for games and you can read to mine?

     Meredith: Deal!

The Thought Bank brought my women’s group closer together. We saw how much commonality we shared, and we felt less isolated. We did Inquiry on many of the beliefs as a collective, which made the process feel light and playful, and since the Thought Bank was on paper, we could go back to it as a reference any time.

Note: The purpose of a Thought Bank is to collect beliefs for Inquiry. It’s crucial when exploring a belief that it be rooted in a specific situation. Mothers should be warm is best inquired when I’m visualizing the day I was in the kitchen, exhausted and cleaning up the burnt rice when my kid walked in the door from school. Specificity allows me to pin down not only my collection of beliefs around an event but also a tangible set of reactions to those beliefs.

Summary of The Thought Bank

Use The Thought Bank when you want to flesh out all your beliefs about a topic. The Rant weaves in nicely with The Thought Bank . It’s also a fantastic tool when facilitating groups in therapy or workshops. The process unites the members of the group and helps them dissipate any identification with or shame around the thoughts they believe.

Like what you’ve read? You can learn The Thought Bank along with 21 other tools in my book, Hold That Thought. Download a free copy of the book here.

Want to dig deeper into The Thought Bank? Download a Thought Bank worksheet from the FREE Bonus section of my website!

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