Sometimes negative thinking is more than a passing emotion and becomes a more pervasive mood. Cognitive restructuring will help you to challenge your negative moods and change the thinking that lies behind them.

Turn Your Mood Around

Negative moods are not only unpleasant – they reduce the quality of your performance and undermine your working and social relationships. Cognitive restructuring can help you to turn these moods around so that you can approach situations in a more positive frame of mind. The principle behind this technique is that our moods are driven by what we tell ourselves, and that this, in turn, is based on our interpretation of our environment.

Case Study: Managing Unhappy Moods

Melinda had been feeling unhappy for weeks. She’d had a big argument with Alicia, one of her best friends at her new job. Having good friends at work was important to her, and she was feeling miserable and insecure. She spoke about this to her partner who suggested that she should analyze why she was feeling as she did.

Identifying her dominant mood as “rejected”, her thoughts were, “she doesn’t like me any more, and, “she doesn’t think I’m good enough to be her friend.” As supporting evidence, she cited the aggression and anger she’d faced from Alicia. However, thinking about the opposing evidence, she remembered that Alicia had seemed quite shame-faced after the argument and had seemed to want to talk, but hadn’t. She also remembered that she had been having family problems.

  • Taking a balanced view, Melinda realized that Alicia’s personal problems had spilled over into her working life and were having an effect on their relationship.

  • Melinda resolved to be warm and friendly the next day and to talk through any problems. Alicia’s friendship with her was soon back on track.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a useful technique to use when you identify that you are in an unhappy mood. This might be when you are sad, angry, anxious, upset, or in one of many other negative states of mind. It can also be used if you note that you are frequently experiencing bad moods of a particular type or in particular circumstances.

What Triggered Your Mood?

When you are aware that you have experienced a negative mood, record the details of the event or situation that has triggered it.


You may have been in a meeting with other members of your team when your manager rejected, out of hand, a suggestion that you made.

What Was Your Mood?

Identify the deep feelings that you had. Moods are not thoughts. Moods can usually be expressed in one word, while thoughts are more complex. You may have felt several different moods at the same time. .


For example, “He is trashing my suggestion in front of my co-workers,” would be a thought, while the associated moods might be “humiliation”, “frustration”, “anger”, or “insecurity”.

Change the Way You Think

Where issues are difficult and important and require a careful, considered examination, cognitive restructuring enables you to examine how rational and valid your interpretations are, and, if appropriate, to test them. Where you find that your interpretations of a situation are incorrect, this will naturally change the way you think about that situation and will change your mood. If you find that you frequently experience a negative mood in response to events, it is worth taking the time to learn the technique of cognitive restructuring.


If unhappy moods persist and you feel that you may be becoming depressed, it is important that you see a doctor for advice.

Write Down Your Automatic Thoughts

Begin the restructuring process by writing down the particular thoughts that spring into your mind when you feel unhappy. For example:

  • Everyone will think badly of me

  • Maybe my analysis skills aren’t good enough

  • How rude and arrogant of him!

  • This is undermining my future with this organization

Identify the most distressing of these – the “hot thoughts”. In this case, the first two thoughts might be regarded as the hot thoughts.

Note Supporting and Contradictory Evidence

Identify the objective evidence that supports these hot thoughts. If you are in a meeting, for example, you might write down that the discussion moved on without any account being taken of your suggestion, and that your boss did identify a flaw in one of the arguments in your paper on the subject.

Next, identify the objective evidence that does not support the hot thoughts. You might write down that the flaw in your argument was minor and didn’t alter the conclusions reached, that your analysis was objectively sound, that the suggestion was well founded, and that your clients respect your analysis and opinions.

Deal with Hot Thoughts

High Impact

  • Understanding your moods

  • Taking a serious approach to your unhappy moods

  • Understanding what lies behind your moods

  • Evaluating supporting and opposing evidence

  • Taking positive action

Negative Impact

  • Getting stuck in a cycle of negative thinking

  • Not seeing hot thoughts as being of importance

  • Experiencing without analyzing

  • Accepting negative thinking without thought

  • Letting bad situations persist

Techniques to Practise

The cognitive restructuring technique consists of a seven-step process.

Record your findings at each stage by writing them on a sheet of paper divided into seven columns.

  1. Write down details of the situation that triggered the negative thoughts.

  2. Identify the moods that you experienced while you were in the situation.

  3. Write down the immediate distressing thoughts that you experienced when you felt the negative mood.

  4. Identify the evidence that exists to supports these “hot thoughts”.

  5. Identify the evidence that contradicts the hot thoughts.

  6. Identify fair, balanced thoughts about the situation.

  7. Observe your mood and think about what you’ll do.

Look at Both Sides

It’s important to look at the situation objectively. If there are still substantial points of uncertainty, discuss the situation with other people who have a view. The balanced thoughts in the meeting example might now be: “Other people respect my abilities. My analysis was reasonable, but not perfect. There was an error, but the conclusions were valid. People were shocked by the way he handled my suggestion.”

Decide What You’re Going to Do


A fair analysis is likely to produce a fair solution

Finally, observe your mood now and think about what action you are going to take. Hopefully your mood has improved. You should now have a clearer view of the situation. You may conclude that no action is appropriate. By looking at the situation in a balanced way, it may cease to be important.

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