Cognitive restructuring can help you adopt more positive views of negative life events.

The way we perceive every situation affects how we respond to it. Thoughts contribute to feelings and feelings lead to actions, for better or worse.

Having inaccurate, automatic, or exaggerated interpretations of life events can go on to create distorted perspectives of reality called cognitive distortions.

These distortions shape not only your thoughts and feelings but also your behavior and health.

Cognitive restructuring encourages you to challenge your thoughts and perspectives. This is accomplished by practicing simple techniques that aim to build new insights and create more balanced viewpoints.

Cognitive restructuring is a technique used to help reinterpret negative life events. It’s similar to cognitive reframing, which aims to help you view negative events from a different perspective and ultimately assign them a different meaning.

While it can be used as a stand-alone technique, it’s mostly used as a technique in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), according to research from 2012.

CBT teaches you how to positively adjust the way you think, feel, and respond to life events. Its approach suggests that there are three main aspects of psychology that influence the meaning you assign to events and the way you respond to them:

  • Automatic thoughts: The immediate thoughts you may have in response to any event. For example, if you meet someone, you may immediately think to yourself “they don’t like me.”
  • Core beliefs: How you view yourself and the world at a fundamental level. You could, for example, believe the entire world is a hostile place.
  • Cognitive distortions: An inaccurate, irrational, or exaggerated perspective.

The essence of cognitive restructuring is to make a conscious attempt to identify and adopt a more balanced perspective in response to these distortions.

Cognitive distortions can be restructured in three steps:

  • identify unhelpful thoughts
  • gather evidence
  • develop balanced thoughts

There are several types of cognitive distortions, and you might find that you relate to one or more. Here are some common ones and examples of how to challenge them using cognitive restructuring.

Mind reading

Mind reading is assuming that you already know what someone else is thinking without actually having credible evidence of that.

Restructuring may look like this:

  • Recognizing that you may be jumping to conclusions about the thoughts or intentions of others.
  • Gathering evidence in support of your assumptions, then challenging it by looking for evidence that denies your assumptions.


When every negative situation feels like a total disaster or that it could easily turn into one, you may be practicing catastrophic thinking.

For example, if your partner is late for dinner, you may assume that they’re in the hospital.

Restructuring may look like this:

  • Thinking of the best-case scenario. Many outcomes are possible in any given situation. Have you considered other, more positive outcomes?

All-or-nothing mentality

Thinking in extremes without considering the full range of possibilities is known as an all-or-nothing mentality. In this thinking, you may have trouble finding the middle ground in any situation.

Restructuring may look like this:

  • First identifying the two categories you’re grouping something into — for example, flattering or insulting.
  • Then you may try to find a middle ground that blends the two extremes.

If you feel the way someone talks to you is either flattering or insulting, consider that they could be neither flattering nor insulting you but rather making conversation


If you apply the experience of one event across all or many other events, you could be overgeneralizing. For example, if one of your relationships ended poorly, you may assume they will all end poorly.

Restructuring may look like this:

  • Considering that the facts from one situation don’t necessarily apply to others, even if the circumstances seem related.
  • Asking yourself if the situations are truly the same to gain more insight into the nature of their differences.


Focusing on one aspect of something but ignoring the rest is labeling.

If you’ve been trying to learn a new skill but can’t seem to get the hang of it, you might tell yourself “I’m terrible at this” despite having made improvements.

Restructuring may look like this:

  • Focusing on more than one aspect of the situation to see the bigger picture.
  • Taking a step back, getting a broader view of the situation, and trying to identify more than one attribute of it.

Should statements

Making “should” statements involves concentrating on what you think should occur rather than accepting what is actually occurring.

For example, telling yourself that you should be able to control your fear of relationships.

Restructuring may look like this:

  • Writing down your “should” statement and then replacing it with a solutions-focused one. For example, you may write down “I’m fearful of relationships, but I’ll continue to search for ways to embrace them.”

Here are some challenging questions you can try to help restructure cognitive distortions.

  • What evidence do I have that confirms my perspective?
  • Are there aspects of this situation that I’m not seeing?
  • Is there a middle ground or gray area that I’m rejecting?
  • Is it realistic to hold myself to these expectations?
  • Would somebody else also arrive at the same conclusion?
  • What’s the overall effect of how I’m thinking?

Getting carried away with cognitive distortions can be easy.

Recognizing the unhelpful thoughts you may be having at each moment is a key step to challenging them.

It can also help to ask yourself questions that challenge those thoughts. This helps create an opportunity to build a more balanced perspective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a good place to start identifying and restructuring cognitive distortions.