Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

Cognitive Distortions:Some Questions to Ask Yourself to Unbend that “Stinking Thinking”

The theory of cognitive distortions was first proposed by David Burns, MD. Eliminating these distortions and negative thoughts is one of the goals of many research proven Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) approaches to conquering mood disorders  such as depression and  chronic anxiety. The process of learning to refute these distortions is called cognitive restructuring. David Burns originally came up with 10 types of cognitive distortions, and a few others have been suggested subsequently by other researchers.

A number of years ago, myself and psychologist Jillian Hooper adapted these types of distortions into questions which clients and patients could use to challenge their dodgy thoughts. I thought it might be useful to post them here in the hope that they may be of use to readers. So here they are:

Questions to help you challenge negative thinking

What real evidence is there?

Am I turning a thought into a “fact”?

Am I jumping to conclusions?

What alternatives could there be?

What is the effect of thinking the way I do?

Is thinking this way helpful?

What are the pros and cons of thinking this way?

What thinking errors am I making?

Am I asking questions that don’t have answers?

Am I thinking “all or nothing” thoughts?

Am I “always” exaggerating “everything?”

Am I questioning my worth as a person because of one thing that has happened?

Am I focussing on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths

Am I blaming myself for things that aren’t really my fault?

Am I taking things personally?

Am I expecting more of myself than I would of others?

Am I only noticing the negative side of things?

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

Am I expecting a catastrophe?

Am I worrying about things that I can do something about?

Am I assuming that things can’t change?

Am I trying to predict the future?

Brown, P H & Hooper, J (1998) Accessible Interventions for Depression in Rural and Remote Areas. Royal Queensland Bush Children’s Health Scheme.

David Burns Brilliant Book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy has been revised and updated over many years and remains one of the best self help tools for people suffering from depression and anxiety. It is also listed in my Highly Recommended Reads accessible via the link in the right column.


July 14, 2009 - Posted by | Cognitive Behavior Therapy | , , , ,


  1. Excellent questions!!! I remember journaling what I called a mood spiral when I was about 16. My pen couldn’t move fast enough. I wrote down every thought that came into my head for about 40 minutes as I continually berated myself until I cried myself to exhaustion. I ended up with 5 pages front and back. I took it to mu counselor and said….”Read this. This is how my mind works every day. Help me!”
    He didn’t point out that these were cognitive distortions or that I could challenge them.
    I just learned (the hard way) at age 43 that these these thought are irrational and 3 basic questions to challenge them.
    I wish I had your series of questions years ago. It would have saved myself from a lot of suffering and helped me model more optimistic viewpoints in front of my children.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Tina | May 3, 2010 | Reply

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