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Use a daily thought record can help change your thoughts from self-defeating to self-serving. Photo courtesy: Unsplash


The Re:Set Guide to Tackling Your Self-Defeating Thoughts

Recognizing and altering your self-defeating thoughts can enhance your well-being.

Do you often catch yourself thinking “I can’t do this?” How often have you thought “I will fail at this” and just brushed your thoughts off? We can often get caught up in our own self-defeating thought patterns which can affect not just our mental health, but also our physical well-being adversely. A daily thought record (DTR), a tool used in cognitive behavioural therapy, can help us break out of these negative spirals by identifying and altering unhelpful thoughts.  

Thoughts influence our feelings which impacts our behaviour and our overall wellness. Tackling self-defeating and unhelpful patterns of thinking can help us change these. The DTR also strengthens your sense of self-control by encouraging you to choose your own adaptive responses to combat these automatic convictions. 

We spoke to Drishti Mehta, a Mumbai-based counseling psychologist, to guide us through using a DTR. 

Using a daily thought record

A thought record is a worksheet divided into six columns to be filled in when you encounter overwhelming or self-defeating thoughts. 

If you feel an emotion strongly and need to make sense of it at the moment to gain some control, you can record your thoughts immediately. But if filling the DTR in the moment overwhelms you, respect and ride out your emotions, and turn to the DTR when you feel at ease. The use of this method will vary for every person and in every situation.

If you have been in similar situations before and logged it, you can read your previous DTR entries to gain perspective and control.

A daily thought record.

A DTR is a tool of cognitive behavioural psychology to help alter thought patterns for your well-being.

Date and time

Log the date and time the thought or feeling occurs.


Answer the following questions to make your response more detailed:

  • Are there any physical stressors around? For example, the sudden inflow of a crowd that can be particularly triggering during COVID-19. 
  • Do I feel physiological changes like sweaty palms or an extreme change in breathing patterns?  
  • Are there any daydreams that are leading to these thoughts? 


Emotions are easier to recognize than thoughts, so when you’re feeling sad or unpleasant, log in your emotion. 

Automatic thoughts

Automatic thoughts don’t require deliberation or reasoning. They are spontaneous and often, we are unaware of them. They are usually brief statements. For instance, before an exam that you are stressed about, “I am going to fail” can be an automatic thought. These perceptions are not helpful and may make you feel vulnerable. 

A lot of therapeutic work goes into understanding and logging automatic thoughts, but for someone who uses DTR for their daily functioning, ask yourself:

  • What thoughts and images are going through my head right now? 
  • How much do I believe in this [automatic] thought? Write this in a percentage. Do you believe this thought 70% or 100%?

Also read: A List of Introspection Prompts to Help You Begin Journaling

Adaptive response

This is where you restructure your thoughts so your new response is more helpful. Ask yourself these questions to challenge your automatic thoughts:

  • What evidence do you have that your automatic thought is true? 
  • Is there another explanation for this situation? 
  • What is the worst-case scenario? If that happens, how can you cope with it?
  • What is the best-case scenario?
  • What if I don’t change this thought?
  • What if I change this thought?
  • If my friend had the same thought, what would I tell them? 
  • Again, check how much you believe in your newly chosen adaptive response in percentage.

Sometimes the automatic thoughts may not be based in reality. Questioning them can help break that concept.


Describe how you felt after identifying and challenging your thoughts. Your feeling(s) may change too. Document that for instance, you may not feel as overwhelmed, your stress levels may have reduced, you may start feeling more secure. 

Check if you experience any changes in your body and write that down. For example, you might stop feeling palpitations or clamminess in your palms.

In case you’re going through a serious mental health challenge, it’s important to note that using a DTR cannot substitute professional help. If you feel overwhelmed by feelings or events, reach out to a mental health professional. If you are already seeing a professional, discuss the DTR with them extensively before you begin using it. It shouldn’t work against the therapeutic work you’re already doing. If your therapist feels like you won’t benefit from it in the moment, then she might make an alternative recommendation as well and with a therapist, the work will be more detailed and specific.

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The Re:Set Guide to Tackling Your Self-Defeating Thoughts