7 Cognitive Behavioral Techniques to Help Reframe Your Thinking

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used by therapists to help people overcome their negative thinking patterns and replace them with healthier, more positive thoughts. By reframing your thinking you improve your mental outlook, which in turn results in more a more positive attitude, behavior and life outcomes. Old, negative patterns of thinking are often rooted in childhood abuse or trauma. CBT helps create new thought pathways in the brain, which help to expand your horizons and create a better future. CBT can help reprogram the negative thinking patterns associated with depression. Lasting results take a bit of time to achieve, so be prepared to commit for a least six weeks.

Let’s take a closer look at a variety of different CBT techniques that you can practice at home…

1. Counteract Negative Thoughts

One effective technique is to write down your negative thoughts. Then take a closer look at them. Now try to look for evidence for and against this thought. Write down the evidence and then write a more balanced thought. When people are feeling depressed they often “dampen” any positive thoughts or good things that happen in their life.

For example, if they receive a large tax refund they may negate it by telling themselves that it’s still not enough money to pay off their debt. Try writing a sentence to counteract the negative thought. The person who received the check may write down that they were able to file their taxes and receive a refund this year, which helped pay down bills.

Money Jar

2. Brainstorming

Writing in a journal can be helpful. Try pinpointing in one sentence what is your biggest problem. Then think of various solutions. You may even try mind mapping, with your problem in the middle of the page. Then like a spider’s web, draw lines outwards with various solutions to your problem. Let your imagination roam free.

If your biggest problem is finances you may write winning the lottery, getting a job, going back to school, or getting a loan as various solutions. Have fun with it. The most important thing this exercise does is to instill hope and open your mind to possibilities.


3. Conduct Thought & Behavior Experiments

It can also be effective to test your thoughts for validity. For example, you can conduct and experiment to see which thought holds more validity. Try swapping negative for positive thoughts.

Instead of, “I’ll stop binging on sugary foods if I chastise myself afterwards” try “I’ll eat less sugary foods if I forgive myself after overeating and tell myself it’ll be okay”. Write down your overeating results after each thought. By conducting this experiment you will collect objective data as to which thought actually results in less overeating.


4. Use Visualization, Morning and Night

When you wake up in the morning, preferably before you get out of bed, imagine your day going well. No matter what you have scheduled, put a positive outcome on it. Imagine your dentist telling you you have no cavities, the bank saying yes to your mortgage application or your co-workers smiling in greeting when you arrive.

Later, when the day is over, before you go to bed, put your imagination to use again. Replay any positive events and if anything negative happened, imagine it as thought it had gone well instead. This way, prior to sleep, you have filled your mind with positive imagery, which in turn instills hope and lets your mind entertain positive possibilities.


5. Practice Positive Thinking

People who are successful in life practice a positive attitude and expect success. They don’t let negative thinking or outcomes get them down and look for the up side in everything. Remember, there is no such thing as failure, only results or consequences from actions. If you don’t like the results you need to practice positive thinking. One helpful exercise is to look for opportunities every day to change your thinking.

You may step outside and say “the weather is awful”. Instead, look for five positive things outside as quickly as possible. The rain is making my flowers grow, the air is fresh, the grass is green, my new roof is holding, and puddles are fun to splash in. Set the timer on your phone at least two times a day to remind yourself to reframe your thoughts into five positive ones.


6. Scheduling Daily Positive Activities

Another CBT technique involves scheduling a brief 10 minute positive activity into your daily schedule. This can be as simple as listening to your favorite song, drawing a warm bath or reading a few pages from a novel. This positive break can help recharge you, gives you something to look forward to, interrupts negative thinking and makes you feel good, if only for a few minutes.

For the next week, write down one pleasant activity which you enjoy (as long as it’s not unhealthy) or one that gives you a sense of accomplishment, into your day timer. This simple technique helps build you’re the “positive thought pathways” in your brain, makes you less ridged and helps relieve stress too.


7. Re-frame Disappointment as Normal

Disappointment is a normal part of life. Cut yourself a little slack. How you react to life’s ups and downs can have a big impact on your overall happiness and future. Some people can’t get past their perceived failures and get stuck in a viscous cycle of negative thinking, negative behavior and negative consequences. It’s important to allow yourself to feel your disappointment, but take an objective look at it as well.

Learn to differentiate between things that resulted as a direct consequence of your own actions and those that were out of your control. Things you can’t control, you have to let go of. On the other hand results that your behavior has a direct impact upon, can be improved or altered. This approach can help you move forward instead of remaining stuck.

sun 1



Debbie McGauran

Debbie has been a registered nurse for over 25 years with experience in geriatrics, medicine, surgery and mental health. For the past four years, she has practiced as a crisis nurse in the ER. Debbie lives on a farm with her family, two dogs, a cat, and four horses.