#shrinkthinks :: CBT, Challenging Those Pesky Automatic Thoughts

We all have them. They come in the middle of the night, along with dread, or follow us around throughout the day. They sabotage our best plans before we are able to move things into action. Are your thoughts, both conscious and those just beneath the surface, keeping you from success and living the life you desire? Have you heard the saying, "thoughts are not facts? These thoughts that interfere with health and happiness sneak up on us fast, some louder than others, and many are like background noise wreaking havoc on your life. Many thoughts need to be challenged because they no longer serve you and actually keep you looping in misery or feeling "stuck." One successful and time-tested strategy for working with coaching or psychotherapy clients is helping them learn to notice the "automatic thoughts" that have a deleterious affect on relationships, mood, anxiety, behavior and general outlook contributing to negative quality of life and poor health. 

Automatic thinking refers to the automatic thoughts people have in response to things happening around them. The goal is not to judge these thoughts that occur, but to develop awareness and then learn to challenge and replace them with more realistic thoughts thus breaking the cycle of negative impact. I've included a helpful CBT tool from Psychology Tools, a resource that I regularly use with coaching and therapy clients to interrupt negative thinking. 

Prompts For Challenging Negative Thinking (Use the list of prompts below to help you assess the truthfulness of your negative thinking).

What thought do you notice?


  • Am I confusing a fact with an opinion?

  • What is the evidence for the negative thought?

  • What is the evidence against the negative thought?

  • Are there any small things that contradict the thought? Perhaps things that I am discounting as unimportant?


  • Are these thoughts helpful to me?

  • Will thoughts like this help me to achieve my goals?

  • Do thoughts like this truly have my best interests at heart?

Alternative perspectives

  • If a good friend knew I were having this thought, what would they say to me?

  • If someone I loved had this thought, what would I tell them?

  • What would Batman say to me about this thought?

  • Am I making the mistake of assuming my perspective on this issue is the only one?

  • If I wasn’t interested in punishing or condemning myself would I think in this way?

  • Ten years from now, if I look back on this situation, will I look at it any differently?

Thinking biases

  • Am I thinking in all-or-nothing terms? (Am I using words like ‘always’ or ‘never’?)

  • Am I catastrophizing?

  • Am I jumping to any conclusions that are not completely justified by the evidence?

  • Am I holding myself to a higher standard than I would hold other people?

  • Am I labelling myself?

  • Am I focusing on my weaknesses and minimizing my strengths?

  • Am I making unreasonable demands? (Am I using words like ‘should’, ‘must’, or ‘ought’?)

  • Am I condemning myself totally on the basis of a single event?

  • Am I blaming myself for something over which I do not have complete control?

  • When I am not feeling this way, do I still think about this type of situation in the same way?

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