Challenging Negative Thinking

Learn how to challenge negative thoughts to overcome and ‘boss back’ anxiety.

Use copies of the Helpful Thinking Form to regularly write down thoughts that make you anxious. Use the Challenging Negative Thinking handout to help you replace your anxious thoughts with more realistic ones.

Here’s an example to help you challenge your negative thinking:

If you have an important interview tomorrow and have been feeling quite anxious about it, you may think: “I’m going to mess up on the interview tomorrow.”

To challenge this thought, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I falling into a thinking trap?
    Yes, I have fallen into the trap of fortune-telling, predicting that things will turn out badly before the event even takes place. But I still feel like I’ll definitely mess up.
  • Am I basing my judgment on the way I “feel” instead of the “facts”?
    I might feel like I’m going to mess up, but there is no evidence to support it. I’m very qualified for the position. I have had interviews in the past and generally they have gone well.
  • Am I 100% sure that I will mess up?
    No, but what if I mess up this time?
  • Well, what’s the worst that could happen? If the worst did happen, what could I do to cope with it?
    The worst that could happen is that I don’t get a job I really wanted. It’ll be disappointing but it won’t be the end of the world. I can always ask for feedback to see whether there is anything I can do to improve my chances of getting another position similar to this one.
  • **

Questions to ask yourself to help challenge your negative thoughts or self-talk:

Am I falling into a thinking trap, e.g., catastrophizing or overestimating danger?
What is the evidence that this thought is true? What is the evidence that this it is not true?
Have I confused a thought with a fact?
What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?
What would a friend say about my thought?
Am I 100% sure that ___________will happen?
How many times has __________happened before?
Is __________so important that my future depends on it?
What is the worst that could happen?
If it did happen, what could I do to cope with or handle it?
Is my judgment based on the way I feel instead of facts?
Am I confusing “possibility” with “certainty”? It may be possible, but is it likely?
Is this a hassle or a horror?

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