Untwist Your Thinking

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps us notice our negative thought patterns, also known as cognitive distortions. After we are aware of these patterns, what happens next?

UnTwist your Thinking is a helpful CBT tool for challenging these negative thoughts. There are several different ways to “untwist” these negative thoughts. Here are a few helpful examples and tips.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: List the pros and cons of a negative feeling, thought, belief, or behavior. What are the costs of these negative feelings, thoughts, beliefs, or behavior? What are the benefits? How do these help you or how do they bring you down? Feel free to write it down and compare the costs and benefits.

Here is an example: 

  • Feeling: feeling angry when your coffee order is running late
  • Thought: thinking “No matter how hard I try, I seem to make mistakes”
  • Belief: I must always be perfect
  • Behavior: unable to get out of bed when depressed

Reattribution: Instead of blaming yourself for a problem, think about all the factors that may have led up to it. Focus on solving the problem instead of draining your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty. Think about “What are other reasons why this might have happened?”.

Here is an example: Let’s say you failed a test. Instead of thinking: “I am the worst, I failed this test because I’m stupid” or “It’s all my fault” try “What are other reasons why I may have failed the test? Was it lack of sleep the night before and not eating breakfast? Was the test especially difficult for everyone? Are there any other study techniques I can try for next time?”

Double Standard Technique: Talk to yourself in the same kind way you might talk to an upset friend. Ask yourself: “Would I say such harsh things to a friend with a similar problem? If not, why not? What would I say to them?”

Examine the Evidence: Feelings are not always fact, as much as they may seem to be. Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, look at the evidence for it. Try: “What are the facts? What do they show?”

Define Terms: Sometimes we call ourselves hurtful things such as “stupid”, “a loser,” or “a failure”. Think to yourself what you mean by these labels. You may be surprised when you find that there is no such thing!

The Semantic Method: Switch out words with ones that are less emotionally loaded or heavy. Instead of telling yourself “I shouldn’t have made that mistake” try “I would have liked if I hadn’t made that mistake, and I can learn from it”.

Have you ever used these techniques? What helps you most with challenging negative thoughts?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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