Challenging Distorted Thinking

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We spend a lot of time inside our own mind worrying about the future, replaying events from the past, and generally focusing on the parts of life that leave us dissatisfied.

Negative or unwanted thoughts can stop you from enjoying experiences, distract you from what’s important, and deplete your energy.

These thoughts can also lead to anxiety and depression.

With practice, you can replace negative thinking with thoughts that help.

Recognize Thought Distortions

Our minds are pretty amazing, and as we navigate the twists and turns of life, they have developed tenacious ways of convincing us of things that aren’t true.

These inaccurate thoughts strengthen negative thinking.

Recognizing them can lead to learning how to challenge them.

Here are four common thought distortions:

Black and White Thinking

Seeing everything as one way or another, without any grey area in between.


Assuming you are to blame for anything that doesn’t work out as you hope.

For example, a friend ignores your text message, and you think you did something to upset her.

How do you know that she is not having a challenging day, lost her phone . . .?

It’s not always about you.


Choosing to see only the negative side of a situation is a choice.


The worst possible outcome is going to happen.


Whenever you have a distorted thought, stop, and evaluate whether it is accurate.

Imagine somebody close to you shares a negative thought and you see how it’s affecting them.

How would you respond?

Would you offer a rebuttal to his or her negative view?

Apply the same logic to your own thoughts.

If you catch yourself assuming the worst will happen or blaming yourself for something that has not gone the way you wanted, ask yourself how you could put a positive spin on the situation.

Think about other possible outcomes or reasons that something turned out differently than you hoped.

Taking a Break from Challenging Thoughts

For some people the weekend means taking a break. Sometimes that’s easier said than done and especially when some of the challenges of the previous week won’t let go.

How can we take a break from negative thoughts?

It is possible to learn how to separate from them.

One way to do this is to give yourself time with the thought.

Sit and focus on your breathing until you feel a sense of calm.

Now look at the thought with curiosity and without judgement. Imagine that you are a third party. The thought belongs to somebody else.

When you are ready, take a break from focusing on the negative thought and move on with your day.

Practice is the way to excellence.

Think for a moment about the word “judgement”.

Now think of some examples of judgement from the wider world and eventually look for examples close to home.

Do you judge?

Release Judgment

We all judge ourselves and others, sometimes consciously, often unconsciously.

We compare ourselves to other people or compare our lives to ideals.

This produces discontent.

Letting go of judgment leads to feeling more at ease and it diffuses stress among other challenges.

To break from judgmental thoughts includes recognizing your own reaction and observing it before letting it go.

Another helpful technique is to “positive judge.” When you notice you are negatively judging a person, yourself, or a situation, look for positive qualities too.

Practice Gratitude

This one is easy to do and also easy not to do, yet research shows that it has a SIGNIFICANT impact on your levels of positivity and happiness.

Even when you are experiencing challenges in your life, and although they might seem illusive, there are always things (even small things) to be grateful for.

Noticing the things that are going well and making you feel happy will keep you in touch with them.

Keeping a gratitude journal and adding a few things every day is one easy and effective way to do this.

Celebrate your wins and feel gratitude for those too.

They don’t need to be earth shattering world records.

Every win counts!

Focus on Your Strengths

What prompts us to dwell on the negative and neglect the positive?

Look upon this as an evolutionary phenomenon.

We tend to remember negative experiences or interactions more than positive ones, partly because they stand out more and because an evolutionary perspective suggests that a tendency to dwell on the negative more than the positive is the brain keeping us safe.

Referred to as negativity bias in psychology. “Our brains are wired to scout for the bad stuff” and fixate on the threat”.

The more you can practice focusing on your strengths and not dwelling on mistakes you’ve made, the easier it will be to feel positive about yourself and the direction your life is taking.

If you find yourself thinking harsh thoughts about your personality or actions, take a moment to stop and think about something you like about yourself or the current situation.

True or False?

Our minds have clever and persistent ways of convincing us of things that aren’t really true. These distorted thoughts reinforce negative thinking.

If we can recognize them, we can learn to confront them.

Turning distorted thoughts or feelings into positive emotions can be challenging and ignoring them doesn’t help.

My job is to help people feel peaceful, relaxed, and know how to effectively manage stress creating negative thinking through workshops and out-of-the-box or customized programs.

Managing challenging thinking is a part of the process.

If you would like to learn how to find relief for you or your team, you can book a Q & A call at the following link.

Negative thoughts are not simply isolated random thoughts, they affect how we feel and yet many of these thoughts are automatic and we hardly pause to reflect on their validity even though they are often biased.

Here’s another way to challenge them.

Take them to court.

Not in the physical sense of course.

You will need to play the roles of judge, prosecution, and defence. . . just a minute in each role.

You may find it helpful to record prosecution and defence arguments on a note sheet.

As defender you will need to justify the negative thought you are having and convince the judge that it is true by identifying supporting evidence.

In the role of prosecutor, your job is to prove that the thought is untrue and of no help by undermining the credibility of the negative thought defence.

Once undermined, you will need to present arguments supporting alternative points of view.

The judge is impartial and interested only in the presented evidence. How will the judge react to your negative thought?

Will it be upheld or thrown out?

Working with students, a psychological research project found that between 60 and 70 percent of the average students’ spontaneously occurring thoughts were negative.

Going into the research exercise, they expected 60 – 75% of their thoughts to be positive.

Much of my direct work with clients reveals comparable results.

Here’s a way to challenge negative thoughts.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion demands stepping back and observing the language we speak to ourselves without becoming caught up in it.

Recognizing that our thoughts are an ever-changing stream of words, sounds and pictures and nothing more than short-lived private events, defusing our thoughts means they have less impact and influence.

Here’s a quick defusion exercise for you.

Recall an upsetting and recurring negative self-judgment.

This is where you might say something to yourself like, “I am incapable”, or “I’m stupid”.

Hold the thought in your mind for several seconds. Believe it and notice how it makes you feel.

Now insert this phrase in front of your thought:

“I’m having the thought that I am . . . “

Notice what happens when you run the thought again with the “I’m having the thought . . .” phrase at the start.

The point of this exercise is to change your relationship and distance yourself from the original thought.

Not to erase the thought, rather to see it as “just words” and now you may be aware of where my favourite saying comes from, “be careful what you say, you are listening”.

Stepping back from challenging thoughts or situations can be difficult.

Learning how to consistently step-back through the power of mindfulness enables us to discover solutions that were previously illusive.

Adding the power of positive psychology focusses on positive emotions and personal strengths.

Hindsight can teach us a lot . . . “that worked well / didn’t work at all”, whatever the outcome, it gives us foresight if we approach with our eyes open, curious and without judgement.

Without your reaction, everything is powerless.

Seek Professional Support

If you are unable to manage your thoughts or find they are interfering with your ability to meet your daily responsibilities or enjoy life. Coaching or therapy can help you weather life changes, reduce emotional suffering and experience self-growth.

As a psychologist and qualified coach, I offer both these services and it is worth noting the differences.

A therapist specializes in helping clients develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness, and cope with various life challenges to improve their lives. There are a number of therapy options available depending on the experience of the therapist and needs of the client.

In short, the therapist enables the client to look at their past to enable healing of past trauma and move forward into the present where positive plans can be made for the future.

As a coach, I am interested in where people are and where they want to go.

Focus is on helping people make progress in their lives to attain greater fulfilment by assisting clients to improve their relationships, careers, or day-to-day lives. The client’s unique skills and gifts are given specific attention.

More Information

Responding in the comments section of this post with your questions is a secure method of contact. Your comments will never be published unless they are of a non-personal nature. Alternatively, you can email Steve Costello at or contact us via direct messaging on Facebook .

Coaching and Tools That Help

Relating to these there are plenty of tools that can help with your Personal Growth and Development whether you feel challenged or just seek to advance the way you respond to your world and expand your success. Please leave your contact details in the comments and you will receive a prompt response. Alternatively, you can send an email. Please understand that your contact details will never be shared outside ExGro or published on this website. Confidentiality is always assured.

More Information

If you would like to know more about ExGro Coaching Services, therapies and Events, please click over to the Education For Life menu item.

Comments and Questions

Leave yours below. Your thoughts or questions may well ignite a positive spark in other readers thinking. You will always receive a prompt response to your questions and there is no such thing as a bad question; only the one that was never asked.


I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy.

Peace & Light

Steve Costello

Steve Costello is a British Community & Youth Studies and Psychology honors graduate with over 30-years theoretical and practical experience delivering therapy and coaching in the Personal Development public and private sectors. He works with businesses and individuals delivering out-of-the-box and customized programs.

He founded ExGro in 2018 with business partner, and friend, Leo Faerberg.

Leo is also a qualified psychologist with additional training in Clinical Psychology. He has over 20-year’s experience.


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