Break Your Negative Thought Patterns with this 7-Step Process

cbt cognitive behavioral therapy mindset negative thoughts psychology reframing thought process Mar 11, 2020


Many people have a negative relationship with food or anxiety around food and want to know how to overcome this. 

I (Coach Kasey) especially hear about this a lot because I’m a psychologist AND a nutrition and fitness coach. We use this very exercise with our clients at KJO Coaching, and it’s something I teach to other coaches inside the Health Mindset Coaching Certification.⁣

This exercise is helpful for anyone who struggles with any kind of negative thoughts they can’t seem to shake (if you’re a coach, this is great to work through WITH your clients!⁣).

While I use the example of food anxiety or poor relationships with food, you can use this exercise with any kind of negative thoughts.

This exercise works because it helps bring awareness to these negative thoughts and helps you learn what provokes them, making it easier to address, reframe, and reverse your thoughts.⁣


Step-by-Step Process for Breaking Negative Thoughts

This is a 7-step process you can write down or work through in your head. All of this comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meaning it is highly researched and, therefore, highly likely to help you or your clients who are struggling with negative thoughts. 


1. Determine When You Had the Negative Thought

Write down the date, time, and context of the negative thoughts⁣. Where did they happen, and what were you doing?


2. Detail Out the Situation⁣


Outline the situation and the people you were around leading up to the negative thoughts⁣ to determine what triggered them.⁣


3. Describe the Exact Thoughts

Define the negative thought⁣s you had. What were they, and what do they sound like? 


4. Become Aware of Associated Emotions

Describe the emotions related to the thought⁣, such as how the thoughts made you feel and how intense they were. After that, rate how much you actually believe those thoughts, then consider the emotions that came from that. 


5. Determine if Your Thoughts are Distorted (they likely are!)

Interpret the specific cognitive distortion involved (see this post for a list of common cognitive distortions). ⁣

Once you’ve determined which cognitive distortion is involved, you can put an exact label on how this thought is inaccurate.⁣


6. Identify Alternative (more realistic) Thoughts

Work on an alternative thought to replace the negative and inaccurate thought⁣.

Ask yourself: what is a more realistic way to think about this that is more helpful and accurate?

Consider whether there’s a more adaptive alternative or if there is another potential solution. Think about what would be a better thought process in the situation.


7. Bonus Step: Reflect and Review 

After working through steps 1-7, you should have a better idea of how true those negative thoughts ⁣really are and where they’re coming from. You can reflect using the following questions: 


Were you able to confront your thoughts⁣?

Is your new, more realistic thought convincing⁣?

Did your belief in your negative thoughts decrease in intensity?⁣

⁣Acknowledge what feelings come along with your change in thinking. These emotions will likely be the opposite of what you initially felt. 

You’ll most likely believe the negative thoughts significantly less than you did at the beginning and feel more positive emotions. 


Applying the Exercise


Here’s an example of what this exercise might look like in practice:

Say you’re at a work party, and there’s food all around you, and you’re telling yourself you can’t have any of the food otherwise you’ll ruin all of the progress you’ve made so far.

Using the above exercise, you might start by detailing out the situation you’re in and determine why you’re having this negative thought. You can also begin to outline the emotions that come with it.

This could sound like, “I see everyone eating, it makes me want to eat, but I worry that if I do, it will halt my weight loss progress. I also feel pressured to eat because everyone else is. I am feeling pulled in two different directions.”

Next, you would spend some time thinking about how much you really believe that eating some of the indulgent food at this event will ruin your progress. You realize that you only believe that thought about 50%. 

When you think about which cognitive distortion you’re dealing with, you may realize that you are “catastrophizing” because your negative thoughts are telling you that one evening will ruin all of your progress. 

Next, you can determine a more realistic thought. Which could sound like,  “It’s important for me to determine if I really want to eat, or if I only want to because everyone else is. And if I do decide to eat, I can definitely enjoy some treats while still maintaining my progress, but I need to be moderate and mindful.” 

Finally, go back and reconsider how much you believe the original thought of ruining your progress by having the food at the party and also how much your emotions have changed around that thought. This more realistic, alternative thought feels so much better, right? And the best part—it’s the truth!

Walking through these steps can provide a serious sense of relief and confidence in your ability to navigate these situations without negative feelings or ruining your progress. 


Improve Your Relationship with Food


At KJO Coaching, we’re all about helping our clients improve their relationships with food and breaking negative thought patterns. We use evidence-based practices to help you achieve long-term results and help you cultivate a growth mindset

If this is something you struggle with, click here to learn more about working with our incredible team of coaches. 

You can also get a head start on improving your thoughts with our FREE Self-Sabotage Workshop seriesThis mini-series will walk you through all different types of self-sabotage (including negative thoughts) and help you get a handle on other aspects like self-control, stress, and motivation. 

Check out my original post here.


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IG: @coachkaseyjo @kjocoaching

Hi, I'm Kasey!

I coach, mentor, write, and teach with one main focus: Build strong bodies and healthy lifestyles, starting with your mindset.


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