- From Unhappiness to a Positive Outlook...
Cognitive Restructuring is a useful tool
for understanding and turning around negative
thinking. It helps us put unhappy, negative
thoughts "under the microscope",
challenging them and in many cases rescripting
the negative thinking that lies behind them.
In doing this, it can help us approach situations
in a positive frame of mind.
This is obviously important because not
only are negative moods unpleasant for us,
they also reduce the quality of our performance
and undermine our working and social relationships
with other people.
The key idea behind this tool, as with
the other tools in this section, is that
our moods are driven by what we tell ourselves,
and this is usually based on our interpretations
of our environment. Cognitive Restructuring
helps us evaluate how rational and valid
these interpretations are. Where we find
that these assumptions and interpretations
are incorrect, then this naturally changes
the way we think about situations and changes
Cognitive Restructuring is similar to the
Awareness, Rational Thinking and Positive
Thinking” tool. The Thought Awareness
tool is a quick technique that is useful
for dealing with spontaneous or simple negative
thinking. Cognitive Restructuring can help
where issues are more significant.
The ‘Cognitive Restructuring’
tool is based on the approach to Cognitive
Therapy described elegantly and simply
by Drs. Dennis Greenberger and Christine
Padesky in their book “Mind
Over Mood”. Mind Over Mood
is well worth reading for a deeper
understanding of this material.
Cognitive Therapy is now
one of the main techniques used to
manage anxiety and depression, among
others. As with other tools in this
section, it focuses on helping its
users understand the negative thought
processes that can cause problems,
and on restructuring these so that
they are fair and balanced.
is a stripped down version of this
approach focused on managing “normal”
negative thinking. If
stress or anything else is causing
you significant or persistent unhappiness,
you should take the advice of suitably
qualified health professionals.
Using the Tool:
We use the Cognitive Restructuring tool
when we find ourselves in a negative mood.
These might be times when we are, for example,
sad, angry, anxious, or upset.
We may also use it after using a stress
diary, when we see that we are frequently
experiencing bad moods of a particular type
or in particular circumstances.
To use the tool, go through the following
- Write down the situation that
triggered the negative thoughts:
Make a brief note of the situation in
the first column of the worksheet.
- Identify the moods that you
felt in the situation:
In the second column, enter the moods
that you feel in the situation. Moods
here are the deep feelings that we have
about the situation. They are not thoughts
“Mind over Mood” offers an
easy trick to help tell moods from thoughts:
It is usually possible to express moods
in one word, while thoughts are more complex.
Keep in mind, you may well feel several
different moods at the same time. These
reflect different aspects of the situation.
For example, “he is trashing my
suggestion in front of my co-workers,”
would be a thought, while the associated
moods might be “humiliated”,
- Write down the Automatic Thoughts
that you experienced when you felt the
In the third column, write down the thoughts
that came into your mind when you felt
the mood. Identify the most distressing
In the example above, thoughts might be:
- Maybe my analysis skills aren’t
- Have I failed to consider these
- He hasn’t liked me since…
- How rude and arrogant of him!
- Everyone will think badly of me
- But my argument is good and sound…
- This is undermining my future with
In this case, the person in this example
might consider that the most distressing
thoughts (the “Hot Thoughts”)
are “maybe my analysis skills
aren’t good enough,” and
everyone will think badly of me”.
- Identify the evidence that
supports these Hot Thoughts:
In the fourth column of the worksheet,
write down the objective evidence that
you can find that supports the Hot Thoughts.
Developing this example, the evidence
written down might have been:
- The meeting moved on and decisions
were taken with no account being taken
of my suggestion
- He did identify a flaw in one of
the arguments in my paper on the subject
- Identify the evidence that
does not support the Hot Thoughts:
In the next column, write down the objective
evidence that contradicts the Hot Thoughts.
Evidence contradicting the Hot Thought
in the example might be:
- The flaw was minor and did not
alter the conclusions
- The analysis was objectively sound,
and the suggestion was realistic and
- When I trained in the analysis
method, I usually came close to the
top of my class
- My clients respect my analysis and
- Now, identify fair, balanced
thoughts about the situation:
By this stage, you will have looked at
both sides of the situation as far as
you can. This should have clarified the
situation. You may now have all the information
you need to take a fair, balanced view
of the situation.
Alternatively, you may find that there
are still substantial points of uncertainty.
If this is the case, then you may need
to clarify this uncertainty, perhaps by
discussing the situation with other people
who have a view or by testing the question
in some other way. Obviously, the amount
of effort you put in does depend on the
importance of the situation.
Do what is needed to come to a balanced
view and write the balanced thoughts down
in the sixth column of the worksheet.
The balanced thoughts in this example
might now be:
- I am good at this sort of analysis.
Other people respect my abilities.
- My analysis was reasonable, but
- There was an error, however it
did not affect the validity of the
- The way he handled the situation
was not correct.
- People were surprised and a little
shocked by the way he handled my suggestion
(this comment would have followed
a conversation with other people at
- Finally, observe your mood now
and think about what you are going to
You should now have a clearer view of
Look at your mood now. You will probably
find that it has changed and (hopefully!)
improved. Write this in the final column.
The next step is to think about what you
could do about the situation. You may
conclude that no action is appropriate.
By looking at the situation in a balanced
way, it may cease to be important.
Alternatively, you may choose to do something
about the situation. If you do, you may
find that some of the techniques explained
elsewhere on this site are useful. The
tool is most likely to be particularly
useful in dealing with problems with other
Make a note of these actions in the final
column, but also put them on your To Do
List so that you act on them.
Finally, think through positive
affirmations that you can use to counter
any future negative thoughts of this type,
and see if you can spot any opportunities
coming out of the situation.
Concluding the example above:
- Mood: Compared
with the moods felt at the start of
the example, the mood experienced
by the person completing the worksheet
will have changed. Instead of feeling
humiliation, frustration, anger and
insecurity, this person is most likely
to feel only anger.
- Actions: A first
action will be to use relaxation
techniques to calm the anger.
Having done this, this person may
take away two actions: First, to check
his or her work more thoroughly and
second, to arrange a meeting to discuss
the situation in an assertive manner.
- Positive Thoughts: This
person could also create, and use,
the following positive thought in
a similar situation: “My
opinions are sound and are respected
by fair-minded colleagues and clients.
I will rise above rudeness.”
Cognitive Restructuring is a useful technique
for understanding what lies behind negative
To use Cognitive Restructuring, work your
way through this process:
- Write down the situation that triggered
the negative thoughts
- Identify the moods that you felt in
- Write down the Automatic Thoughts that
you experienced when you felt the mood.
- Identify the evidence that supports
these Hot Thoughts.
- Identify the evidence that does not
support the Hot Thoughts.
- Now, identify fair, balanced thoughts
about the situation.
- Finally, observe your mood now and
think about what you are going to do
However remember that you're experiencing
serious or persistent unhappiness, then
you should see an appropriately qualified
article helps you build defenses against