Step 2: Automatic Thoughts

Our interpretation of life experiences shape our construction of reality

Now that we have a clearer picture of the situation/context that led to us feeling upset, the next step is to take a look at how we interpret the triggering situation.

In other words, this step involves examining our automatic thoughts about the situation; what we tell ourselves about what happened (i.e., our self-talk), and the meaning we attribute to the event for ourselves and others. 

Be Aware of Your “Automatic Negative Thoughts”

Automatic thoughts are our immediate interpretations of our experiences. These thoughts happen spontaneously and shape the internal monologue that occurs in our minds, influences our memories, and affects our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. 

When dealing with depression, our automatic thoughts tend to be quite negative, intense, and pervasive. These thoughts often reflect poorly on ourselves and happen often throughout the day, in many different contexts. 

For example, Robert receives an email in the evening from his boss asking to meet with him first thing in the morning about the proposal Robert just submitted. An automatic negative thought might be something like, ‘Oh crap, he must have hated my proposal. Shit, I’m going to be in trouble tomorrow. I always screw things up.’

Such automatic negative thoughts underlie how:

  • we think about ourselves: (e.g., I’m a failure; I’m not good enough),
  • our perceptions of others (e.g., Everyone hates me; My boss thinks I’m useless),
  • and our feelings (e.g., Sadness, fear).

Increasing awareness of our automatic negative thoughts is a crucial step in the cognitive restructuring process.


To continue with our example from Step 1, we now record the thoughts that immediately came to mind in response to the triggering situation using our Activity Sheet, your notes, or the form below. (Print/save responses to your device at each step. Our website does not record personal information you enter here.)


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.


No one wants to hang out with me. 

I’m not interesting enough for people to care about me.

You can add a “Thoughts” section to your own example, listing what thoughts occurred for you.

Cognitive Restructuring Template

Alternate Thoughts

Once you’ve written out your thoughts in your notes or above, let’s move on to Step 3: Identifying the Consequences.