How to Develop Your Cognitive Restructuring Skills

Remember: Thoughts Are Not Facts

Cognitive restructuring skills involve being able to identify irrational, unhelpful thoughts and then reframe them in a more rational, helpful way. It’s about realising that thoughts are not facts, and we have the power to choose how we respond to them.

“Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor E. Frankl

Cognitive restructuring skills training is at the heart of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the main talking therapy treatment in the UK.

Examples of Irrational vs. Rational Thinking

Irrational Thinking Cognitive Distortion Type Cognitive Restructuring
"I should/shouldn't/must... do everything well, be liked by everyone, feel this way" Should/Must Statements Preferences -
"I'd prefer it if I could perform well, but it's not a disaster if I don't"
"People are good/bad, immoral/moral, pleasant/rude" Black-and-White Thinking Living in the reality of grey areas, yin and yang -
"People are a complex mixture of different characteristics, everything exists on a spectrum"
"I must have someone else to depend on and/or love, or else my life will fall apart" Catastrophising "Relying too much on others can lead to dependent behaviour. I'll learn to trust my self-sufficiency and balance that with seeking help from others"
"That was stupid - I'm an idiot, a failure" Personalising Unconditional self-acceptance -
"If I was talking to a friend in this situation, I'd tell them to be kind to themselves and that everyone makes mistakes"
"What if…?" Hypothetical Worry Focus on practical worry -
"I can control how much I prepare for the speech and that is all, I cannot control other people's reactions, nor can I expect to be liked by everyone"
"I can't believe he did that, it made me feel… It was so awful when… What if that's the reason for..?" Rumination "I will let the past refine me, not define me. It is better to live in the present and focus on what I can control now. Rumination only wires my brain for low mood"
"My past is the cause of my problems - my emotions and behaviours cannot be changed because of my past. This is the way things are" Filtering out the Positive, Fixed Mindset "Change is possible - it is possible to rewire my brain and body through self-help and therapy. My past influences my present, but I have the power to shape my future"
"My boss isn't getting back to me, it must mean she's not going to accept my proposal" Jumping to Conclusions, Fortune Telling "My boss is taking a while to get back to me - she might be very busy. If I don't hear anything by the end of this week I will follow up on Monday"
"She is so rude - she just blatently ignored me!" Labeling "I can't accurately gauge someone's character from one or two interactions, maybe she's going through a tough time right now"
"I feel so worthless, therefore I must be"
"I'm not feeling motivated enough, therefore I can't do it"
"I'm not in the mood, therefore I can't"
Emotional Reasoning "My emotions do not dictate reality nor my behaviour - just because I feel worthless, it doesn't mean I am"
"Motivation is just an emotion - it comes and goes. If I want to achieve this goal, it's better for me to act regardless of how I'm feeling"
"My mood naturally fluctuates, I'm not in the mood now but I this will probably change once I'm actually there. It's better for me to act regardless of how I'm feeling"

Develop Your Cognitive Restructuring Skills with The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit Planner

The perfect tool to complement cognitive behavioural therapy!

Discover plenty of guidance, techniques and practical exercises to help you calm down your mind.

Learn a variety of self-help methods from:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Lifestyle medicine
  • Positive psychology and more!


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