Rewiring Negative Thoughts

Learn to Manage Negative Thoughts

“Reality is created by the mind, we can change our reality by changing our mind.” – Plato

Depression tends to make us see things through a negative filter. It can flood our minds with dark and painful thoughts, and blind us from seeing any of the positives in our lives. 

With depression, it’s easy to find ourselves ‘stuck in our heads’, caught in spirals of negative thinking. We may have a critical inner voice that reminds us over and over again of past mistakes and flaws, constantly worrying about the future, or endlessly comparing ourselves to the people around us.

Dealing with depression can be a confusing experience, and it can feel like it’s us against our minds. 

Negative thoughts can be a source of chronic stress, damage our overall health, and continually drag down our mood. They can show up as incorrect assumptions, unrealistic self-criticisms, and convince us of things that aren’t true. 

Examples of common negative thought patterns include:

All-or-nothing thinking

  • ‘I forgot to put the gas cap back on after filling up the tank. I never do anything right.’
  • ‘I didn’t do well on one test. I’m going to fail this class.’


  • ‘They think I’m boring. I know they have better things to do than hang out with me.’
  • ‘My sister did not ask me to help her make dinner for our party. She must think I’m a bad cook.’


  • ‘There’s no point in even trying. I know I’m not going to get the job anyway.’
  • ‘If I ask for help on this task, she’s going to say no.’


  • ‘My relationship with Susan didn’t work out. Relationships never work.’
  • ‘I made a fool of myself at the party last night. I have no social skills.’

Discounting the positive

  • ‘I may be a decent father, but anybody can do that.’
  • ‘Yeah, my boss liked my idea, but he was just being nice.’

Jumping to conclusions

  • ‘My girlfriend hasn’t replied to my text in 3 hours. She hates me.’
  • ‘My co-worker stopped talking about his wedding at work. I bet it’s because he doesn’t want to invite me.’

‘Shoulds’ or ‘Musts’

  • ‘I must get straight A’s. Anything less isn’t good enough.’
  • ‘I should workout 5 times this week. That’s the only way I can be fit.’


  • ‘I can’t believe I said that. I’m such an idiot.’
  • I’m so stupid for forgetting to send that email.’


  • ‘My boss looks mad. It must be something I did wrong.’
  • ‘My kid doesn’t get good grades in school. I must not be a good father.’


  • ‘Since I can’t pay this bill, my credit rating will go to shit and I’ll lose the house.’
  • ‘If I don’t start working out now, I’ll die of diabetes.’

For a more complete and comprehensive list of common cognitive distortions see our article on 16 Common Negative Thought Patterns.

Negative thinking is a major component of depression, so we need to learn strategies to help manage these thoughts. One of the best tools we can use to combat negative thinking is called ‘cognitive restructuring’.  

What is Cognitive Restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring, a technique of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is a strategy that helps people change the way they think. The goal of cognitive restructuring is to replace automatic negative thoughts (cognitive distortions) that cause stress with more balanced thoughts that do not produce stress.

Cognitive restructuring helps us expose negative biases or incorrect assumptions that are part of our thinking and which lead to painful and stressful feelings. These negative thoughts can then be challenged and restructured into healthier thinking patterns that help us feel better about ourselves and/or the situations we find ourselves in. 

Even though our thinking may feel automatic and beyond our control, with the right techniques and practice, you can learn how to restructure negative thoughts.

The more often we can see how depression is skewing our thoughts, the less control depression will have over us. 

Here is a simple example that illustrates the basics behind cognitive restructuring: 

  1. Situation: ‘I made a suggestion at my workplace’s weekly meeting, but my idea did not get implemented.’
  2. Thoughts: ‘I have no good ideas. People think I am stupid. I am terrible at work.’
  3. Feelings: ‘Embarrassed. Disrespected. Stupid. Stressed.’
    Behaviours: ‘I stayed to myself the rest of the day and did not talk with any of my co-workers.’
  4. Challenging/Replacing:

    • Evidence that supports the thought: ‘People did not immediately support the idea. No one came by my office to talk more about my idea after the meeting.’
    • Evidence that doesn’t support the thought: ‘A few people said it was a good idea. I often get complimented on my ability to think outside the box. My idea was not the only one that the group didn’t take up. People tell me they like the way I work. I usually do a good job.’
    • Alternate/balanced thoughts: ‘People at work think that I am capable and often have good ideas. I do my work well, but this wasn’t one of my most feasible ideas. But my team seems to appreciate that I have more ideas, than no ideas at all.’

Outcome: ‘I feel a bit calmer and the negative thoughts aren’t so intense anymore. I can better see how I was overreacting earlier.’

Putting it into action

This course will guide you through the key steps of cognitive restructuring, breaking down and explaining each one as we go. These steps include: 

  1. Identifying the Triggering Situation
  2. Recognizing Automatic Negative Thoughts (activated by the triggering situation)
  3. Identifying the Consequences (feelings and behaviours in response to the negative thoughts)
  4. Replacing Negative Thoughts

By the end of this course, we should be able to:

  • Be more aware of our thoughts and how they impact us
  • Shift our thoughts to be more realistic and adaptive 
  • Confidently put cognitive restructuring into use (in the moment before our thoughts spiral and also when reflecting on tough situations)