Step 1: Identifying the Triggering Situation

What sets off your negative thoughts?

“For me context is the key – from that comes the understanding of everything.” – Kenneth Noland, American painter

The first step to cognitive restructuring is straightforward. Here, we simply identify the situation and context in which we felt upset. 

It can be helpful to think of ‘who, what, when, and where’ when identifying the triggering situation to help us remember what was going on.


Here is an example of what someone might write under “Situation” in their Cognitive Restructuring Activity Sheet. 


This afternoon, I texted three friends to see if they wanted to get together after work. Everyone’s busy, so I’m spending an evening alone with no plans.

Try writing out a recent situation in which you found yourself feeling down or upset.   

You can:

  • Download our Cognitive Restructuring Activity Sheet to fill out
  • Write notes on your device or a piece of paper
  • Use our online form below (Print/save responses to your device at each step. Our website does not record personal information you enter here.)

Go with whatever works best and is most convenient for you. 

You can start by writing in the “Situation” section, we’ll add to your notes as we go on. 

Cognitive Restructuring Template

Alternate Thoughts

Once you’ve written out a situation in your notes or above, let’s move on to Step 2: Automatic Thoughts.