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 16 MAR 2018  8 COMMENTS

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Happiness & SWB (19)

The types of automatic thoughts a person is likely to have can Meaning & Values (12)
affect their health outcomes, as well as their overall quality of life.
Meditation (8)
This article will cover what automatic thinking is, how it affects
Mindfulness (23)
people’s lives, what automatic thoughts look like, and how to
break the cycle of negativity with positive thoughts. Optimism & Mindset (15)

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This article contains: Positive Education (14)

Positive Emotions (18)


What Is Automatic Thinking?
Our Cognitive Bias: Construction Of The Self- Positive News (16)
Concept
Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad Positive Psychology
50+ Examples of Positive & Negative Automatic Articles (30)
Thoughts
Positive Workplace (20)
Cognitive Restructuring Of Core Beliefs & Automatic
Thoughts Relationships &
Communication (13)
5 CBT Worksheets For Challenging Negative Self-
Talk & AT’s Resilience & Coping (18)
A Take Home Message
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What is
Neuroplasticity?
Definition + 14
Brain Plasticity
Exercises
What Is Automatic Thinking?
25 Jul 2018
Automatic thinking refers to the automatic thoughts that stem
from the beliefs people hold about themselves, such as those What is Self-
beliefs that are of interest to rational-emotive behavior therapy Compassion
and Self-
and other cognitive-behavioral therapies (Soflau & David,
Love?
2017). Automatic thoughts can be considered “surface-level, non- (Definition,
volitional, stream-of-consciousness cognitions” that “can appear Quotes +
in the form of descriptions, inferences, or situation-specific Books)
20 Jul 2018
evaluations”.

How to Build
As the name indicates, these automatic thoughts cannot be
Self-
directly controlled by people, since they are reflexive reactions Confidence
based on the beliefs people hold about themselves. People can and Self-Belief
indirectly control these thoughts, though, by challenging the (Definition +
beliefs that lead to them. Quotes)
18 Jul 2018

Relevant research into automatic thinking began with Aaron


What is Self-
Beck’s research into how negative automatic thoughts affected
Acceptance?
the development of depression (Beck et al., 1979). Before long, 25 Exercises +
researchers decided that positive automatic thoughts were also Definition and
important to study, and particularly the relationship between Quotes
positive automatic thoughts and negative automatic thoughts 12 Jul 2018

(Ingram & Wisnicki, 1988). There are a variety of consequences


What are
to being disposed towards negative automatic thoughts rather Intrusive
than positive automatic thoughts. Thoughts in
OCD and
For example, in people with depression and HIV/AIDS, negative Anxiety? +
Treatment
automatic thoughts are associated with depressive symptoms,
options
and vice-versa (Riley et al., 2017). In athletes, negative automatic
10 Jul 2018
thoughts can lead to burnout (Chang et al., 2017). Finally, in a
sample of university students without any shared physical or
mental health conditions, automatic thoughts had significant
Positive Psychology Exe
impacts on mental health and self-esteem, with negative
automatic thoughts leading to more mental health symptoms and
decreased levels of self-esteem (Hicdurmaz et al., 2017).

Download These 3 Positive


Psychology Exercises For Fre

Our Cognitive Bias: Construction Of The Self-


Concept
Self-concept refers to how one perceives themselves, their past
experiences, their abilities, their prospects for the future, and any
other aspect of the self. Aaron Beck’s cognitive triad, discussed
below, deals with self-concept and the construction of the self.
The basic idea of how our self-concepts and cognitive biases
affect our lives has to do with automatic thoughts.

For example, someone with a negative “self-referential schema”


is more likely to take things personally, leading to automatic
thoughts like “People are not talking to me because I am an
unlikable person”, rather than exploring other possibilities (Disner
et al., 2017). A negative self-referential schema can also lead to
increased severity of depression symptoms. Most importantly, a
negative self-concept can lead to an unending cycle of negative
thoughts.

This is because people with negative self-referential schemas


exhibit an attentional bias. For example, when asked to decide
whether an adjective is self-referential or not, people with
depression are more likely to endorse negative adjectives than
healthy controls, and they show an attentional bias by being
quicker to endorse negative adjectives and quicker to reject
positive adjectives than healthy controls (Disner et al., 2017). In
turn, being likelier to endorse negative adjectives is correlated
with longer “retrospectively reported” depressive episodes,
demonstrating the cycle of negativity.

Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad


According to Beck et al. (1979),

“[the] cognitive triad consists of three major


cognitive patterns that induce the patient to
regard himself, his future, and his experiences in
an idiosyncratic manner”.

According to Beck’s cognitive triad, someone who is depressed


will automatically have a negative view of themselves, their
experiences (that is, the things that the world around them
causes to happen to them), and their future. According to this
model, “the other signs and symptoms of the depressive
syndrome” are “consequences of the activation of the negative
cognitive patterns”.

This is because a depressed person:

“tends to perceive his present, his future, and the


outside world (the cognitive triad) in a negative
way and consequently shows a biased
interpretation of his experiences, negative
expectancies as to the probable success of
anything he undertakes, and a massive amount of
self-criticism” (Beck et al., 1979).

In other words, people who are depressed have a negative view


of themselves and their lives, and these negative views lead to
(further) symptoms of depression. These symptoms of
depression then lead to people having a negative view of
themselves and their lives, and as discussed in the previous
section, this also leads to a cycle of negativity.

50+ Examples of Positive & Negative Automatic


Thoughts
So how do automatic thoughts actually present themselves?
Since automatic thinking research began with negative thoughts,
let us begin with negative automatic thoughts. According to the
Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (ATQ-30) developed by
Hollon & Kendall (1980), some examples of negative automatic
thoughts include:

“I feel like I’m up against “I can’t get things


the world.” together.”
“I’m no good.” “I hate myself.”
“Why can’t I ever “I’m worthless.”
succeed?” “Wish I could just
“No one understands me.” disappear.”
“I’ve let people down.” “What’s the matter with
“I don’t think I can go on.” me?”
“I wish I were a better “I’m a loser.”
person.” “My life is a mess.”
“I’m so weak.” “I’m a failure.”
“My life’s not going the way “I’ll never make it.”
I want it to.” “I feel so helpless.”
“I’m so disappointed in “Something has to
myself.” change.”
“Nothing feels good “There must be something
anymore.” wrong with me.”
“I can’t stand this “My future is bleak.”
anymore.” “It’s just not worth it.”
“I can’t get started.” “I can’t finish anything.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I wish I were somewhere
else.”

According to Ingram & Wisnicki (1988), some examples of


positive automatic thoughts include:

“I am respected by my “I enjoy a challenge.”


peers.” “My social life is terrific.”
“I have a good sense of “There’s nothing to worry
humor.” about.”
“My future looks bright.” “I’m so relaxed.”
“I will be successful.” “My life is running
“I’m fun to be with.” smoothly.”
“I am in a great mood.” “I’m happy with the way I
“There are many people look.”
who care about me.” “I take good care of
“I’m proud of my myself.”
accomplishments.” “I deserve the best in
“I will finish what I start.” life.”
“I have many good “Bad days are rare.”
qualities.” “I have many useful
“I am comfortable with life.” qualities.”
“I have a good way with “There is no problem
others.” that is hopeless.”
“I am a lucky person.” “I won’t give up.”
“I have friends who support “I state my opinions with
me.” confidence.”
“Life is exciting.” “My life keeps getting
better.”
“Today I’ve
accomplished a lot.”

While the 30 items listed above are indeed examples of


automatic thoughts, the automatic thoughts questionnaire-revised
(ATQ-R) (Kendall et al., 1989), which is a measure still used as a
basis for automatic thinking research (Koseki et al., 2013), lists
the following ten items as examples of automatic thoughts (along
with the 30 negative thoughts listed above):

“I’m proud of myself.” “I’m warm and


“I feel fine.” comfortable.”
“No matter what happens, “I feel confident I can do
I know I’ll make it.” anything I set my mind to.”
“I can accomplish “I feel very happy.”
“This is super!”
anything.” “I’m luckier than most
“I feel good.” people.”

Cognitive Restructuring Of Core Beliefs &


Automatic Thoughts
Positive automatic thoughts can offset the negative effects of
both negative automatic thoughts and stress in general.

For

example, people with high levels of positive automatic thoughts


are likely to respond to stress by feeling that their lives are more
meaningful, while people with low levels of positive automatic
thoughts are likely to respond to stress by feeling that their lives
are less meaningful (Boyraz & Lightsey, 2012).

Furthermore, higher levels of positive automatic thoughts are


correlated with higher levels of happiness as well (Lightsey,
1994).

This indicates that in order to have better mental health


outcomes, one should reduce their negative automatic negative
thoughts and increase their positive automatic thoughts, in order
to have a healthier balance. This is because some negative
thinking is natural, so it is not a matter of completely eliminating
negative thoughts but outweighing them with positive thoughts.
One way to do this is with cognitive restructuring (CR), which
involves (Hope et al., 2010):

“identification of problematic cognitions known as ‘automatic


thoughts'”
“identification of the cognitive distortions in the ATs”
“rational disputation of ATs with Socratic dialogue”
“development of a rational rebuttal to the ATs”

Research in CR with automatic thoughts indicates that effective


CR might focus on “Negative Self-Evaluative ATs”, such as
situationally-based evaluations. One example would be a
situation where one’s automatic thought when faced with an
uncomfortable situation might be “I won’t know what to say”
(Hope et al., 2010). This is because these thoughts are easily
disproved with exposure and role-playing. Another effective CR
method when dealing with “other-referent ATs” (as opposed to
“self-referent” ATs) is to minimize the consequences of the
negative automatic thoughts, such as by asking oneself “So what
if she thinks you are boring?”.

Aside from CR, research indicates that people with higher levels
of dispositional mindfulness are also less likely to experience
automatic negative thoughts, potentially because they can more
easily let go of negative thoughts or direct their attention
elsewhere (Frewen et al., 2008). That study also indicated that a
mindfulness intervention derived from both mindfulness-based
stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive
therapy (MBCT) was effective at reducing negative thoughts.
This indicates that along with positive thinking, mindfulness is
another way to counteract negative automatic thinking.

5 CBT Worksheets For Challenging Negative Self-


Talk & AT’s
For practical ways to challenge and dispute negative automatic
thinking, one can try using one of these worksheets:

Automatic Thoughts from Therapist Aid

This is a simple worksheet which starts by offering some


information about automatic thoughts and their consequences.
The rest of the worksheet is split into three columns: Trigger,
Automatic Thought, and New Thought, which aims to help people
understand and dispute (if necessary) their own automatic
thoughts. This worksheet is a great introduction to automatic
thoughts.

Characteristics of Negative Automatic Thoughts

This 14-page worksheet is a deep dive into negative automatic


thoughts, what causes them, how to identify them, and how to
start disputing them. This worksheet is not as directly useful as
others for finding replacement positive thoughts, but by helping
people better understand their negative automatic thoughts it
may indirectly lead to replacement positive thoughts. This is a
great option for just about anyone interested in negative
automatic thoughts, because it contains so much information that
there is bound to be something new for everyone.

Thought/Feeling Record Worksheet


This worksheet unfortunately does not come in the form of a
PDF but is valuable enough that it is worth printing out and
working through anyways. This worksheet helps the user really
focus in on a specific negative automatic thought and examine
what triggered it as well as its consequences. Once one really
understands the negative automatic thought, this worksheet
helps turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts. This
worksheet is excellent for someone looking to extensively
examine their individual thoughts.

Positive Thought Replacement Worksheet

This worksheet simply asks one to list all the automatic negative
thoughts that come to their mind, then asks them to thoughtfully
come up with alternative positive thoughts they can replace the
negative thoughts with. Since this worksheet does not offer
information about automatic thoughts, it is a good option for
someone who does not need to learn more about automatic
thoughts but is simply ready to start replacing their negative
thoughts with positive thoughts.

Appendix 1 Worksheets and Checklists

This 10-page worksheet, which seems to be the appendix to a


book on CBT, serves as a self-directed treatment plan revolving
around automatic thoughts. It includes an automatic thoughts
checklist (where one can just check off automatic negative
thoughts they have experienced, rather than having to generate
them on their own), a “Thought Change Record” which aims to
help people dispute negative thoughts, a “Schema Inventory”,
where one can find out if they have any dysfunctional underlying
schemas (such as “I’m stupid” or “I’m a fake”), and much more.
This extensive worksheet is a great option for people who want to
use self-directed CBT to deal with their automatic negative
thoughts.

A Take Home Message


Negative automatic thinking not only leads to poor mental health
outcomes, but it can also lead to a cycle of negativity, since
certain mental health issues can lead to further negative
thoughts. While these thoughts can seem impossible to avoid,
one can use positive thinking to counteract these thoughts.
Through CBT methods, one can even train themselves to think
more positive thoughts in general.

At times, “the power of positive thinking” can sound like nothing


more than an inspirational cliché. In this case, though, having
healthy beliefs about oneself can lead to positive automatic
thinking, which can indeed be beneficial. Most importantly,
thinking positive thoughts and having positive beliefs does not
cost anything, so it does not hurt to do one’s best to try.

References

Related Posts

About the Author


Joaquín is a writer who was first introduced
to psychology through behavioral
neuroscience research. This research
experience was focused on addiction with
the hopes of ultimately helping people
change their habits. Joaquín was born in
Nicaragua, now lives in the United States,
and believes positive psychology teachings
can improve people’s lives in both countries.

8 Comments

saba May 21, 2018 at 11:45 am Reply

Thanks author

Hilary Fabre July 16, 2018 at 8:51 pm Reply

I was feeling despairing that I could not


understand this as my fear at looking at my own
inner negativity was so well built up. I founf your
work to be clarifing and reassuring and I have
begun to engage in my CBT worksheets as part
of my mindfulness practice. Thank you so much.

Maikano April 22, 2018 at 7:21 am Reply

Interesting and very helpful thanks author

Carla Maria Cavalcanti Coutinho March 31, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Reply
Tenho pesquisado muito sobre Psicologia Positiva e
descobri o site de vocês com ótimos artigos e
exercícios. Vou fazer um curso de Psicologia Positiva
com Coaching agora em maio,pois já sou coach, e
quero cada vez mais aprender e quem sabe fazer um
master. Muito obrigada tenho aprendido demais com
vocês.
Prazer Carla

Beth Jenkins, LCSW March 30, 2018 at 12:19 am Reply

Can clinicians print and use the worksheets/resources


listed above with patients? I work on an inpatient
psych unit which is part of a community, non-profit
hospital, and these would be great for our psycho-
education groups but I wouldn’t want to use them
without permission…
THANK you for such an informative article!

Anna Smits March 30, 2018 at 8:01 pm Reply

Hi Beth,

Yes you are allowed to use them for your own


practice. We always encourage practitioners to
use our resources within the limits of their own
expertise. All the best and let me know if you
have any further questions.

Warm regards,
Anna

Ann March 22, 2018 at 7:03 am Reply

Really good resources!


Bryan Mejia March 19, 2018 at 8:44 pm Reply

Awesome information and resource! Y un orgullo ver


un centro-americano salir adelante! Saludos desde un
catracho.

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