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9 ways to reframe common self-defeating thoughts


Everyone beats up on themselves and experiences self-defeating thoughts sometimes. But this tendency can sap your emotional energy and hurt your focus when you need it most. With some conscious effort, many such negative thoughts can be reframed in a productive, useful way. Here are 9 valuable ways to reframe common self-defeating thoughts:

1. "I just made a huge mistake! What on earth is wrong with me? How the hell could I be so stupid?" — becomes — "I’ll learn so much from this mistake that I’ll never make one like it again."

2. "This train/bus/line is taking forever; what a pain" — becomes — "This is a great time to read an interesting article, listen to one of my favorite songs, text a friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while, think about big decisions I have to make soon, or recall what I learned in that book I read recently!" (Be careful with these if you're driving, though!)

3. "I’m badly losing this argument; I need to work harder to prove I’m right" — becomes — "I’ll end up with more accurate beliefs and prove that I’m the sort of person that can change my mind if I acknowledge that the other person has made a good argument. It may even make them think better of me!"

4. "That person I thought I had a good conversation with never replied when I contacted them, so I must have done something off-putting" — becomes — "There are numerous reasons why someone wouldn’t reply — email inadvertently going to spam, forgetting to reply, personal crises, disinterest in making friends, travel — and this person doesn’t know what I’m really like. So it can’t be deeply personal, but I can certainly work more at making a great first impression to reduce the chances that this happens in the future!"

5. "I failed at this thing I tried really hard at, so there must be something wrong with me" — becomes — "If I never fail, I’m not trying things that are hard enough to challenge me. Each time I try something hard I will have some chance of failure, so failure is totally expected and normal, even though I should try my best to diagnose why it happened so I can improve."

6. "This is so incredibly unfair, I can’t stand it!" — becomes — "This is something I really don’t like and that might make a lot of people unhappy, and I should definitely try to change it if I can, but there is no rule that says the world is fair; the universe owes me nothing. I've withstood plenty of bad things in the past I actually can and will stand this."

7. "That random bad thing I just thought of might happen without warning, so I’d better mull that possibility over in my mind" — becomes — "So what if it does happen? I’ll get through it. If there’s something I can do about it, I’ll plan to do this thing now or as soon as possible to reduce the risk. If there’s not much of anything I can do, I'll remember that I could spend my whole life worrying about things I can’t change, but it'd just make me miserable with little or no upside."

8. "I can’t believe my friend did that annoying thing, it’s so disrespectful!" — becomes — "If I consider this person unlikely to do such a thing again, I'll remember that this behavior isn't characteristic of them, and that everyone messes up sometimes, including me. But if I think they're likely to do this sort of thing again, I should make sure they know I don’t like when they behave like this. Beyond that, I then need to decide whether I want to be friends with someone who is prone to behaving this way."

9. "I can’t believe I did that bad or shameful thing many years ago; I still feel guilty about it!" — becomes — "That happened a long time ago, and the person I am now would never do it again, so it’s time to forgive myself; alternately, if I’m still prone to doing things like that, I should deeply consider why that is, and what the next, concrete step I can take is towards no longer being a person who is prone to that behavior."

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