27 Questions to put to negative thoughts and help correct distortions
You are probably used to believing your automatic thoughts uncritically. It can be difficult at first to discover alternative ways of thinking. Sometimes it helps to talk them over with a friend, counsellor or therapist. However, with practice, you can learn to question and challenge your own negative and distorted thoughts effectively. Here is a set of questions to help you do this.
For overinclusive judgements
- Am I putting experience into two rigid categories? Do I think in all or none terms, for example – ‘If I’m not a perfect success I’m a failure’, or ‘If I’m not very thin, then I’m fat’, or ‘If I’m not highly intelligent I’m stupid’?
- Am I overgeneralising?
- Am I taking this too personally?
- Am I making the problem worse by using absolute or exaggerated words like always, forever, should, must, need, can’t?
For arbitrary inference
- Is there another explanation? Are there other interpretations compatible with the evidence? For example, if she walked past me without greeting me, could she have not recognised me because I just had my hair cut? Might she have been in a hurry or preoccupied with her own personal problems?
- What evidence do I have for this? Rigorously check whether you have any hard data to support your conclusion. For example, if you think ‘She doesn’t like me’, what is the evidence that supports this? Review the quality of the evidence. Lack of evidence that she does like you does not constitute evidence that she doesn’t, for example. If she walked past you without saying ‘hello’, is this good evidence that she doesn’t like you.
- Am I confusing a feeling with a fact? Because I feel unwanted it does not mean that I am unwanted. Because I feel anxious, it does not mean that there is actually something dangerous.
For selection of negative evidence
- Am I ignoring facts which do not fit into my interpretation? Accurately review the positive aspects of the situation.
- Do I discount evidence without good reason? Do I say things like – “He’s only talking to me because he’s sorry for me”.
- Am I putting too much focus on irrelevant factors?
For catastrophic thinking – decatastrophising questions
- What is the worst that could happen?
- What is the probability (out of 100) that this catastrophic thing would happen? When anxious, people often grossly overestimate how probable an unpleasant outcome is.
- What if this happened? Could I deal with it? It might be unpleasant and demanding to have to deal with the feared outcome, but you may have resources to do so, or could get the needed resources.
For other forms of faulty reasoning
- Am I making a mistake about what causes what?
- Am I over-responsible? … Do I take responsibility for causing events that I am not responsible for? … Or for which I am only responsible for in a small way?
- Do I believe that because I think of doing something it’s the same as actually doing it?
- Am I recognising my personal rights in this situation?… Do I give another person more rights than I accord to myself?
- Am I using ‘should’ statements to put unnecessary pressure on myself by imposing arbitrary, outdated or counterproductive rules or standards.
- Am I using ‘should’ statements to judge others and insist that they change into something else?
- Am I focusing on painful events in the past in an unhelpful way that prevents me from building a better future?
- Am I deceiving myself or rationalising?
- Am I relying on superficial self-statements based on positive thinking that is not related to reality? Replace them with genuine reality-based coping statements.
- Am I overlooking my own strengths and resources?
- Does it serve a useful function for me to think like this? Does thinking this only make the situation worse?
- What difference will this make in a week, a year, ten years from now?
- Am I asking questions that have no answers?
- Am I focusing on unpleasant feelings rather than on identifying and solving the problem?