5 Cognitive distortions exercises

In this blog, we will learn about the different types of exercises used in therapy to deal with cognitive distortions.  

What are the exercises to tackle cognitive distortions?

  • To Read oneself 
  • Identification of the type of distortion
  • Switching roles
  • Analyzing and evaluating the evidence
  • Sum of its parts
  • Avoid  generalizations
  • Resist speculations
  • Get rid of “shoulds” or “musts”
  • Cost-benefit analysis

Sign of Cognitive Distortions

We all experience distorted thinking at least at some point in our life no matter who we are. We cannot escape from these distortions. But then the question arises of how to identify these cognitive distortions in our thought processes? To identify Cognitive distortion we first need to be aware of our thought process and its effects on our emotional and mental state. Thoughts such as 

  • I am not good enough
  • They are better than me
  • I am an idiot
  • I am ugly and unlikeable
  • Everything is difficult for me
  • My life is harder than others
  • I will never succeed in life.
  • No one will like me
  • I am pathetic
  • Everyone is hateful towards me etc. 

These types of thoughts are unfounded and do not contribute positively to our growth and development. They work more as inhibitors and obstacles in our path towards self-growth and development. Therefore it is important to deal with such thoughts in their initial stages before they do more harm to our cognitive processes.

Exercises to Fix Cognitive Distortions

Following are some of the most effective exercises to help deal with cognitive distortions. 

Learn to Read yourself by observing your mental state

When a person is anxious without any reasonable reason or trigger then their cause of anxiety could be attributed to cognitive distortions.

People often experience anxiety but are not aware of it. They may confuse the symptoms of anxiety with symptoms of stress or any other normal daily occurring symptoms. But if there is even a slight inclination that these symptoms are the result of something much more This exercise aims to try asking yourself some questions

  • Is my attention focused on this task, or am I distracted by something that I am not aware of? 
  • Does my body feel stressed and tense?
  • Am I experiencing some unusual physical symptoms like nausea, fatigue, stomachache, or racing heart?
  • When did these signs and symptoms start occurring? 

The key is to immediately take action once you feel you are experiencing symptoms or signs of anxiety by turning your attention to your thoughts. Ask yourself if these symptoms are caused by your thinking. 

Over time, you will become adept at relating the thoughts that lead to the development of anxiety within you or cause unfavorable changes in your behavior. Such thoughts are your cognitive distortions and need to be fixed.   

Identify your most-used distorted thoughts

To help deal with Cognitive distortions it is important to first identify them They could be identified by following the steps described below. 

Step 1

Make a list and write down all the prominent and remarkable thoughts that occur in mind in a day. While writing down thoughts do not add any additional information or change the structure of the thought. Try to recall and write it exactly as it occurred. 

Step 2

Find and relate the thought to a place or situation.

To find links between your thoughts and the situation you can ask the following questions

  • When and where did negative thoughts pop into my mind for the first time?
  • What was the frequency of these thoughts and how many times were they repeated?
  • Are there other similar types of thoughts that occur in similar situations? 

Step 3

Once you have the thought and the situation, identify the emotion it causes you.

Step 4

Try to group these thoughts according to a pattern or theme by the end of the week or sometime later since the beginning of this activity. 

Remember to group the thoughts properly and according to some theme. Thoughts with “always” cannot be grouped together with thoughts containing “never”. The aim of this exercise is to help you identify the thoughts that are repetitive cause greater distress in you than the rest.  

Changing roles

Switching roles is like switching our per[ectives. Suppose someone says the negative thoughts we are having about ourselves to our family or friend. How would that make us feel? We would be most likely offended and dilute those things as being untrue and toxic. Thus, by switching roles we allow ourselves to look at the same situation but from a different point of view, Thus, the important aspects that were missed by us initially can now be recognized and acknowledged. 

Examine the evidence

Negative thoughts are often baseless and irrational. They have very little evidence to support them. Therefore in order to eliminate these distortions we could examine looking for cues in the situation that contradict our negative thoughts.

If you have thought of being a loser or useless then examine the thought and find cues and evidence that could support that thought. “Have you been useless throughout your whole life? Have you never accomplished anything in your life? Try asking yourself such questions that will help you put things into perspective. Once you start collecting the evidence you will realize how baseless and unfounded these negative thoughts are and yet we believe in them wholeheartedly 

Sum of its parts

Negative thoughts or cognitive distortions are often accompanied by labels. 

I’m pathetic, I am a loser, I am dumb, I am hateful, etc are just some examples of these labels. In such instances, it is important to realize that these labels don’t apply to the person as a whole. Just because someone is unemployed at the present does not make them a failure or a loser. They might not have a job today but they can get a job in the future. So the labels of being a loser or failure do not define them as a person. These labels may feel like they are applicable in the present scenarios but one should always remember that times change and nothing is constant. Therefore we should believe in our ability and not pay any heed to such disparaging labels.

Avoid the urge to generalize

All of us tend to make the mistake of overgeneralization at least at some point in our life. So we might take one bad incident or assumption and apply it everywhere.

For example, if someone said that the dish you prepared is not good does not mean that they are implying that you cannot cook anything well. 

Therefore you need to learn to identify the difference and interpret it positively and productively. It is important to use the technique of reframing here. Another technique that helps deal with overgeneralization is  “The “opposite threes” technique. 

In this technique whenever you end up generalizing a situation try to think of three opposites to the situation.

For example, when you think “I cannot cook at all,” consider thinking about three scenarios when you could cook reasonably well. 

Skip speculation

We often delude ourselves into thinking that we know everything as if we can read minds which is quite untrue. 

Therefore it is always better to have a grasp of the reality to remain grounded. Therefore minted of speculating or falsely assuming that your parents don’t love you you could ask them how they feel about you. 

By doing this you can conclude and find the answer to your thoughts that were bothering you for a while. In most cases the evidence points in the opposite direction of what we initially assume. So it is quite possible that your parents do love you but were shy or awkward to express it. But you could have never found this out if you had believed in your speculations or more accurately distorted thinking instead of checking it for yourself. 

Replace “shoulds” and “musts”

The most commonly found cognitive distortions are the compulsive distortions that include the words should or must in them. 

I should become smarter

I must not talk too much

I should listen to everything others tell me to 

I must always behave properly etc

These are just some of the examples of cognitive distortion that are almost like rules that we bind ourselves to follow. If we are unable to follow or fulfill these expectations that we set upon ourselves then we are assaulted with irrational guilt and shame. One of the best ways to tackle this is by replacing shoulds with I would like to. Instead of compulsions, we could turn it into wishful thinking thus easing the pressure these distortions have on our minds. 


Cost-benefit analysis

In the cost-benefit analysis, we estimate the perceived or expected benefits of the decision and stack them against the perceived costs of that decision.  

It is like making a list of pros and cons of the negative thoughts you have identified till now which will influence your decision-making skills.  You could do that by asking yourself a simple question,

“In what ways is this thought beneficial to me and how does it hurt me?”

If the answer to your questions is that these thoughts pose harm to you more than they do good then you can isolate these thoughts and deal with them separately. 


We had a look at the various types of exercises used to help with cognitive distortions and gained a deep understanding of the process. 

Frequently asked questions

How do you challenge thinking errors?

Following is a simple method to deal with our dysfunctional thoughts or NATs by challenging and reframing the thoughts positively.

  • Identify the thought and then isolate it
  • Note down these types of thought
  • Be aware of the distress caused by them 
  • Identify the Cognitive Distortion.
  • Challenge & Reframe Negative Thinking.

What is the reason why you had to reframe your thoughts?

Reframing of thoughts is done to reduce stress and negative emotions. It also helps in bringing out positive change in our behavior and helps us adopt a positive and healthy mindset towards life.  

How do you get out of a mental spiral?

Following are a few remedies that could be used by anyone to help them calm their anxiety and relieve the symptoms caused by it.

  • Take a deep breath and exhale it slowly. Repeat this process until you can feel your heart rate calming down
  • Move your body or exercise to relieve tension…
  • Listen to calm and soothing music
  • Remind yourself that what you are feeling is temporary and shall soon pass. 
  • Be self-compassionate and patient towards yourself.

Can CBT rewire the brain?

Therapists have been recommending and appreciating the benefits of CBT for decades now because of its effectiveness in helping treat disorders by changing a person’s mindset. CBT does rewire the brains of the person by eliminating the negative aspects and replacing them with positive and productive thoughts.

Does CBT work?

CBT is one of the most sought-after and prescribed treatment options by therapists. It works very well in helping treat depression and anxiety disorders. Behavioral disorders, personality disorders are often treated with the help of CBT. Thus, there is no doubt that CBT does work.  


Casabianca, S. S. (2021, July 29). Can you stop negative thoughts by changing cognitive distortions? Psych Central. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/fixing-cognitive-distortions#do-you-need-therapy 

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