31 Days

Day 13

Reframe Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts illustration
Negative thoughts illustration

Modern life and all its conveniences mean we’re more connected than ever. Unfortunately, it also means there is no shortage of opportunities to feel bad about yourself. Digital media has a unique way of creeping into our psyche, doesn't it? Anytime we look at a screen, we have the opportunity to amplify our critical inner voice. It can be our friends, out doing something cool (without us), images of celebrities who look impossibly perfect, or influencers whose fun-loving life and meteoric success prompts irrational envy and self-doubt. And that's to say nothing of the vitriol that can come with airing your opinions on, well, basically anything. Hey, it's tough out there.

Of course, it's unrealistic to say you can cut it out of your life. You're a modern man, plugged into what's going on. Yeah, you could ease up on the scrolling, but in every life, some negative thoughts are sure to show up. The key is finding ways to cope and make a distinction between genuine interest in what we're seeing in front of us and lingering born of disappointment or frustration.


There are actually strategies to help diminish the influence of negative, habitual thoughts that are based on faulty or inaccurate assumptions. These crappy thoughts have a name: cognitive distortions. In his book, Feeling Good, Dr. David Burns highlights common cognitive distortions that can get us stuck in negative emotions.

All or Nothing Thinking

Seeing everything as either a strict success or failure. For example, stating that you will never get in shape after one fitness technique didn't work.

Discounting the Positive

Disregarding positive experiences in order to justify harmful patterns. Such as watching a funny or charming YouTuber/TikToker and thinking, “Gosh, I'm not nearly as quick-witted and funny.”

Jumping to Conclusions

Making assumptions about what will happen or what others will think based on minimal or no evidence.


Tackling your cognitive distortions can seem intimidating and overwhelming, but the first step is just understanding that they're there. As Dr. Willough Jenkins, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California, says: When you label your thought, it takes a little bit of the power away from it. The game plan for reframing your thoughts is fairly straightforward.

Don’t Ignore Cognitive
Distortions, Notice Them

Every time you're experiencing a distortion, point it out to yourself. As an example, feeling anxious before a presentation. Are you telling yourself you're going to blow it? Does it lead to you thinking that you're not good at your job? Jenkins even says, as an exercise, you can write these thoughts down, which helps to see and understand them more clearly.

Weigh the Evidence

Take out your thoughts and emotions for a second, and think about what the actual facts of the situation are. Usually, when we do this, the cold hard facts will dilute the negativity and help you see clearly. For example, if you have a solid track record at work, you can tell yourself that even a less-than-stellar presentation will not jeopardize your position and that there are plenty of people who rely on your work.

Seek a Distraction

Since these thoughts are essentially manufactured, they don't always have staying power. So distraction can be a helpful and effective strategy. Passing time by doing a hobby or something that makes you feel good, like cooking, playing a video game or going for a quick walk, can alleviate the pressure of cognitive distortions.

Let It Go

If you keep returning to a negative thought despite labeling it as a cognitive distortion and talking about it, Jenkins recommends leaving it be. The mindfulness technique of observing a thought without judgment, then letting it pass can help create much-needed distance.


Man with depression

In 2021, three in 10 Americans surveyed by the National Center for Health Statistics reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. That figure was an increase from one in 10 in December 2019.