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Basic Techniques

Evaluating your thoughts and ideas is the most important part of Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

Now that you understand the basic concept of CBT - that thoughts greatly influence your perceptions and moods - one of the first steps is to learn to recognize your automatic negative thoughts and ideas. Evaluating your thoughts and ideas is the most important part of CBT. Listed below are some common negative thoughts. Perhaps these are thoughts you have had. Perhaps you will identify other "downbeat" thoughts as you read over these examples.

Downbeat Thought & Ideas - Identifying Yourself as a Failure

Do you ever think to yourself, "I am a loser!" or "No one else would have done that. I am a total failure"? This can lead to low self-esteem. Noticing when you have this thought is the first step toward stopping a self-defeating spiral.

Would you speak to your friends in this way if they had a problem? Most likely, you would not! Think about how you would speak to a friend or family member if they were having a problem. Then treat yourself at least as kindly.


Do you tend to notice the bad and overlook the good? Or do you exaggerate bad events? Remember our example in Cognitive Behavior Therapy of the two businessmen; one left feeling happy because he focused on the good comments and the other man left sad because he focused only on the one bad comment? Try and make sure that you focus on good events rather than dwelling on bad ideas.

Predicting Negative Events

When you think negatively for long periods of time, you may start to predict bad things, almost like fortune telling. In other words, thinking downbeat thoughts often brings about negative events. For example, before giving that presentation, the negative minded worker might have thought to himself: "This is going to be horrible. My boss is going to hate it!" He is setting himself up for failure. Instead, try and give yourself some positive encouragement.


Try and notice if you hold yourself personally responsible for things that are not your fault. This can also lead to guilt and low self- worth. Remember that you are responsible for your behavior and others are responsible for their behavior.

Blaming Others

When something goes wrong, do you immediately say that it is someone else's fault? Sometimes we do not take responsibility for our own actions. Instead we say that because so-and-so did this, I had to do that.

Exercises to Change Your Downbeat Thoughts

One of the best ways to change your downbeat thoughts is to write them down on paper. You may also want to write down the emotions you are feeling.

After you have identified your downbeat thoughts and emotions, try and identify a more upbeat thought about the same situation. Finally, realistically blend your downbeat thought with your upbeat thought to develop a new thought about the same situation. While it may sound confusing, it's actually quite easy. Here's a sample Frame of Mind chart:

Downbeat Thought Upbeat Thought New Thought
I woke up today feeling more panicked and sad than usual.

Emotion = sad

Everyone feels sad some days. I cannot expect to be perfect. No one is perfect. Some days are better than others.
I could not get out of bed. It is hard to get out of bed when you are feeling sad. Tomorrow I will try to get out of bed.
I smoked several cigarettes in a row. Today I had a relapse which is common when people try to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is hard work. I can continue to work on my smoking habit to better my health.
I guess I will never be able to do this!

Emotion = defeated

I will be able to do some of these things. I have already started. I have accomplished some things. I have quit smoking for several days. I am doing better on some days than I was before so that is an accomplishment!

A Frame of Mind Chart[PDF] is available for you to print and use. [reference one]

Rational Responses

Once you have some practice using the Frame of Mind Chart you will begin to recognize patterns in your thoughts. The more you practice changing your downbeat thoughts, the easier it will become. Here are a few more suggestions for developing new thoughts.

When you feel badly, picture how you would speak to a friend. If someone came to you and said: "Today was the pits. I feel hopeless. I am a total failure." How would you respond to them?

You might say, "Everyone has bad days. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to be perfect everyday. Do not give up. I am proud of you for trying." Sometimes restating your thoughts as you might respond to a friend can assist you to develop new ways of thinking.

Another idea is to focus on what you can do to change the situation. Speak with your family or friends about your concerns and ask their opinion. Family members and friends can often offer a realistic view of the situation. Other times, friends may share similar problems and together you can identify solutions.

For example, let us say you are beating yourself up because you are trying to quit smoking and you are not succeeding at first. Perhaps you could speak to a friend or family member who is an ex-smoker. More than likely, they will share their difficulties with quitting smoking. They can also motivate you by sharing how much better they feel now that they do not smoke.

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