How to Break Out of a Bad Mood and Challenge Negative Thoughts

  1. Identify the Distortion:  Write down your negative thoughts so you can see which of the ten cognitive distortions you’re involved in.  This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.
  2. Examine the Evidence:  Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it.  For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.
  3. The Double-Standard Technique:  Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.
  4. The Experimental Technique:  Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought.  For example, if, during an episode of panic, you become terrified that you’re about to die of a heart attack, you could jog or run up and down several flights of stairs.  This will prove that your heart is healthy and strong.
  5. The Pleasure-Predicting Technique:  Predict how satisfying various activities will be on a scale from 0-99 percent.  After you complete each activity, record how satisfying it actually turned out to be.
  6. Thinking in Shades of Gray:  Although this method might sound drab, the effects can be illuminating.  Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, evaluate things on a range from 0 to 100.  When things don’t work out as well as you hoped, think about the experience as partial success rather than a complete failure.  See what you can learn from the situation.
  7. The Survey Method:  Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic.  For example, if you believe that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.
  8. Define Terms:  When you label yourself “inferior” or “a fool” or “a loser,” ask, “What is the definition of ‘a fool’?”  You will feel better when you see that there is no such thing as “a fool” or “a loser.”
  9. The Semantic Method:  Simply substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded.  This method is helpful for “should statements.”  Instead of telling yourself “I shouldn’t have made that mistake,” you can say, “It would be better if I hadn’t made that mistake.”
  10. Reattribution:  Instead of automatically assuming that you are “bad” and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it.  Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.
  11. Cost-Benefit Analysis:  List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like getting angry when your plane is late), a negative thought (like “No matter how hard I try, I always screw up”), or a behavior pattern (like overeating and lying around in bed when you’re depressed.)  You can also use the Cost-Benefit Analysis to modify a self-defeating belief.  For example, you could list the advantages and disadvantages of telling yourself you must always try to be perfect.
  12. Externalization of Voices:  You and another person take turns playing the role of your Automatic Thoughts and Rational Responses.  The person who is the Automatic Thoughts attacks, and the person who is the Rational Responses defends.  Frequent role-reversals are used so the person who is defending doesn’t get overwhelmed.
  13. The Vertical Arrow Technique:  Instead of trying to disprove a negative thought, you do the opposite.  You ask yourself, “If that thought were true, why would it be upsetting to me?”  Then you can write down the first thought that comes to your mind and repeat the process again.  You will generate a series of negative thoughts that will help you tap into the underlying beliefs and self-defeating assumptions that you make vulnerable to excessive anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety, and depression.
  14. The Feared Fantasy Technique:  You and another person act out your worst fears, such as being rejected because you’re not smart or successful enough.  This can help you see that these fears really aren’t as terrible as you thought.

When you find yourself in a bad mood or experiencing negative thoughts, ask yourself these questions.
  1. What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
  2. Are my thoughts factual or just my interpretations?
  3. Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  4. Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
  5. What else could this situation possibly mean?
  6. Is this situation as bad as I am making it out to be?
  7. What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
  8. What is the best thing that could happen?
  9. What is most likely to happen?
  10. Either way, can I stand it?
  11. Is there anything good about this situation?
  12. Will this matter in 1 year? 5 years?