Combating Fear of Flying With the ‘4-Column Technique’


If you’ve been following our series on aerophobia, you’ve read my recent posts about a key feeder into such anxieties, namely, automatic negative thinking, and most recently an example of such a thought, the unrealistic need to have things under complete control

Now that we’ve seen how it’s possible to counter automatic negative thoughts like this, we can start to go about it in a more regular, systematic manner. A good way to do this is via something called the “four-column technique”.

Here’s how it works – literally via four columns on a piece of paper (or computer/tablet screen, if you must).

Column one:  Events that trigger unpleasant emotional or behavioural reactions.

Column two:  The automatic negative thoughts that spring to mind in response to those events (and which are as we know the root cause of the unpleasant reactions).

Column three:  Alternative thoughts we’d like to substitute in their place, generated as a result of rational discussion or testing.

Column four:  New emotional/behavioural reactions brought about by these alternative thoughts.

It wll help to have a list like this at hand whenever you start to become nervous at the prospect of an upcoming flight, or with you at the airport or even right on board the plane. But you don’t even need to wait for an occasion like this; you can also do it after you hear about someone else’s negative flying experience; following a session of the ‘systematic desensitisation’ technique I described several posts ago;  or just in a spare moment while recalling past flights, or imagining different situations and how you might react in them.

This method is useful for indentifying new automatic negative thoughts, the better to counter them. In addition, jotting down alternative thoughts allows you to have them always available to read whenever the negative ones recur; for greater convenience you can even make little index cards to re-read whenever the need arises.

Don’t forget that the objective here is to substitute the old automatic negative thoughts with more positive alternatives, and therefore these must become automatic as well – which is really possible only through repetition. And taking note of the emotional and behavioural reactions caused by those alternative thoughts will provide motivation to keep the process going, since these reactions will unquestionably be far more positive and pleasant than the old negative ones.

Columns ready! 🙂

image | rogilde – roberto la forgia