Unhelpful thoughts, sometimes called negative thoughts, can keep you from enjoying life. They can also worsen other problems, like anxiety, depression, or pain. Changing your thought patterns may not be easy. But our minds can be trained to be stronger and healthier—just like a muscle. A technique called thought reframing can help.
Thought reframing is the process of replacing negative thoughts with more helpful thoughts. It's a skill taught in a type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are also books and apps that can help you learn thought reframing on your own.
With practice, you can get better at choosing healthier thoughts to replace negative thoughts.
How can thought reframing help?
Thought reframing helps you become more aware of how your thoughts are connected to your feelings and behaviors. Finding unhelpful thinking patterns and shifting them can make you feel better. That can help you better handle life's challenges. You may be more able to manage stress and handle depression, anxiety, or other problems.
How can you get started with thought reframing?
Here's how to get started with reframing unhelpful thoughts.
- Notice the thought.
Pay attention to thoughts that are discouraging. For example, in a job review, your boss praised several things about your work. But you're feeling down because she had one small criticism. You might even think, "I'm no good at my job" or "She doesn't like me. I must be bad." These thoughts can pop up sometimes before you can stop them. But learning to recognize them can help you shift them.
- Question the thought.
Look at that thought, without judging it, and ask yourself whether it is helpful or true. Ask yourself questions about the situation and your thoughts. You might ask, "What did my boss say exactly?" "Were there positive comments?" "Why do I focus only on one criticism?" Your answers can help you find more accurate and helpful ways to think about the situation.
- Replace the unhelpful thought with a more helpful one.
Here's where you can ask yourself "What's something that's true but more helpful?" For example, you might think, "I've done a lot of good work this year, and my boss noticed it. She thought there was one area I can improve. So I'll think of some things I can do to get stronger in that area."
Here are some examples of negative thoughts and how they could be replaced with more helpful thoughts.
- Original thought: "I'm sad that I don't have many friends. People must not like me."
- Replacement thought: "I have some friends, so I know I can make more. It might just take some time."
- Original thought: "I should get married before I'm 30. If I don't, I'll probably end up alone."
- Replacement thought: "There's no guarantee that I'll meet the right person by the time I'm 30. If I don't get married by then, I still have time to find a good relationship."
Changing your thought patterns may not be easy. But our minds can be trained to be stronger and healthier—just like a muscle. With time and practice, you'll get better at noticing unhelpful thoughts and choosing healthier thoughts instead.
Current as of: June 25, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.