How to Defeat Negative Thought Patterns with Cognitive Restructuring

How to Defeat Negative Thought Patterns with Cognitive Restructuring

Many people find themselves having negative thoughts from time to time. But then, these negative thoughts can interfere with one’s achievements, relationships, and even well-being.

Cognitive restructuring is a therapeutic technique that can assist a person to identify his or her negative thinking pattern and also change it.

Negative thoughts are self-defeating and destructive. So, you should interrupt these thoughts and redirect them. And this is where cognitive restructuring helps.

How does cognitive restructuring work?

Cognitive restructuring is a major component of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is a talk therapy that helps in the treatment of mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders and depression.

A cognitive-behavioral therapy session involves two persons – the therapist and the patient. Both work hand-in-hand to identify those negative thought patterns. Once these thought patterns are identified, they then practice techniques that will reorganize and rebrand your thoughts.

Sometimes, one may not easily recognize his or her negative thought patterns. So, you must work with a professional therapist at the start of cognitive restructuring.

Just as the name implies, cognitive restructuring declutters your negative thoughts and rebuilds them in a more accurate and balanced way.

Sometimes, one may experience distorted thoughts – these thoughts create a very bad and unhealthy view of life. These distorted thoughts are known as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions cause anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and self-limiting behaviors.

Cognitive distortions include:

  • Personalizing
  • Overgeneralizing
  • Catastrophizing
  • Black-and-white thinking

When you undergo cognitive restructuring, you will have a chance to notice these distorted thoughts as they occur. You can then reshape these thoughts in more helpful and accurate ways.

The idea is to change your view about certain circumstances or events, and by so doing, change your feelings and your actions concerning that circumstance.

So, what’s the right way to restructure negative thoughts?

Effective cognitive restructuring techniques

Cognitive restructuring is not reserved for a particular class of people. Anyone can use it to change their thinking habits. However, most people do better by working with a therapist.

Your therapist can help you to identify those harmful cognitive distortions. They will also explain to you why a particular thought is inaccurate or irrational.

A therapist will help you to understand the art of “halting” negative thoughts and converting them into more positive ones.

Here’s a guide to the art of cognitive restructuring:

Monitor yourself

To change a negative thought pattern, you must first admit and identify the mistake you are making. Your success in cognitive restructuring is a function of your ability to observe and identify those bad thoughts that creates negative feelings within you.

It is also important to notice when those thoughts creep in, and also where they creep in. Certain situations might make you more vulnerable to cognitive distortions. By identifying those situations, you can make advanced preparations.

By admitting your vulnerability, you can arrest your negative thoughts and change it before it consumes you.

Journaling can also help. Yes, you may not know the exact cause of your sadness or anxiety at first, but journaling your thoughts can help you to identify a negative pattern or cognitive distortion.

Self-monitoring helps you to quickly identify distorted and negative thought patterns.

Question your thoughts

An important component of cognitive restructuring is knowing how to question your thoughts, especially those negative ones that make your life unproductive.

Your cognitive therapist can teach you the art of Socratic questioning. With the knowledge of Socratic questioning, you can discover the bias nature of your thoughts.

Examples of Socratic questions include:

  • Are my thoughts based on facts or emotions?
  • How do I know that I’m having accurate thoughts?
  • Is there any evidence that this thought isn’t correct?
  • How can I test this belief?
  • Are there other ways of interpreting this information?
  • Is this a black-and-white situation or does it have any shades of gray?

Now, let’s assume you’re experiencing catastrophizing, you might imagine the worst outcomes in a seemingly stressful situation. By arresting and questioning this thought pattern, you will be able to map out all possible outcomes and evaluate the possibility or likelihood of each outcome.

Questioning also helps you to consider new possibilities that are not as drastic as the ones that you may fear.

Pooling evidence

Pooling together evidence is a major component of cognitive restructuring.

You may want to document or keep records of events that trigger a response, including your company and activities at the time. You may also want to document the strength of your response and the memories that resulted from that.

You may also pool evidence for your thoughts or against your thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions. It is important to understand that cognitive distortions are inaccurate, and in most cases, biased. However, they can also be deeply ingrained. To successfully dislodge and replace them, you must have evidence about their rationality or irrationality.

You must be able to prove that your beliefs are accurate, and probably compare list to facts to prove that your beliefs were distorted or incorrect.

For instance, if you take other people’s actions personally, you will inadvertently blame yourself for things not caused by you.

Do a cost-benefit analysis

Performing a cost-benefit analysis will help you to consider the merits and demerits of maintaining a particular cognitive distortion.

For instance, you may ask yourself:

  • Do you derive any benefit from calling yourself a fool or an idiot?
  • What ate the practical and emotional costs of this thought pattern?
  • Does it have any long – term effects? If yes, what are they?
  • Does this thought pattern affect others around you?
  • Does it limit your productivity? If yes, how?

Comparing the pros and cons can help you determine whether there is any need to change the pattern.

Creating alternatives

Cognitive restructuring helps people to view situations or events in new ways. Part of it involves creating alternative but rational explanations to replace those negative distortions that you’ve adopted over time.

What are the benefits of cognitive restructuring?

When starting, you must work with a therapist. However, it is also worth knowing that cognitive restructuring is something that you can learn and do on your own once you understand how it works.

The ability to identify your negative thoughts and change them has a myriad of benefits. For example, it may help to:

What type of problems can cognitive restructuring solve?

According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is recommended for:

  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Marital problems
  • Mental illness
  • Substance use disorder

The cognitive restructuring also helps with the navigation of difficult situations such as chronic illnesses, a divorce, or the death of a loved one.

Cognitive restructuring can be applied to any situation that triggers negative thought patterns.

What are the drawbacks of cognitive restructuring?

Hiring the services of a therapist is highly recommended. And so, a potential disadvantage may be the financial cost of therapy sessions.

Mayo Clinic doctors have observed that most CBT techniques are more effective when combined with medications.


Cognitive restructuring is a primary component of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

In many cases, it is usually collaborative. A patient will have to work with a therapist to identify negative thought patterns and in their place, think positively and happily. Cognitive restructuring eases symptoms of depression and symptoms of anxiety, as well as other mental health problems.

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