Automatic Thoughts and 7 Great Examples by Aaron T. Beck

Automatic thoughts are mental functions without conscious judgment, profoundly affecting our actions and emotions. Our automatic thoughts are rooted in our more stable beliefs and schemes.

In cases where we experience emotional distress, our mental functioning becomes excessive, and we are more likely to make ineligible inferences. In such cases, these methods or forms of assessment used by our minds do not help us. The things that go through our minds when we have problems, which we call automatic thought, are also a product of the thinking process that is unsuitable for this situation.

What Are Automatic Thoughts?

You can think of automatic thoughts as the things that pop into your head that you keep thinking about

Research shows that these thoughts are powerful enough to affect your feelings drastically. Let’s say you’re feeling down, and now there is a video on Facebook with an adorable puppy fussing in its sleep– if you were to follow this unconscious “pattern” of thinking, the positive video would bring your mood back up. This is because automatic thoughts carry emotional weight– even if they aren’t totally accurate! If it’s negative, chances are the situation will rate much higher for our emotions than it does for our logic.

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Automated thoughts are defined and exemplified below. Check out your thoughts when you are in trouble or what these thought features of what you say to yourself may be the product of which. Remember that there can be more than one automatic thought in one thought.

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Worksheet/Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (PDF)

Thought Record

Automatic Thought Record: cbtiofsocal

Thought Record Sheet: getselfhelp.co.uk

7 Automatic Thoughts According to Aaron T. Beck:

In his work Cognitive Therapy of Depression, Beck identified automatic thoughts as mental processes that occur automatically and often unconsciously in response to a stimulus or situation. These thoughts are typically brief and can take the form of words, images, or feelings.

Beck also identified cognitive distortions as ways of thinking that are biased or irrational and can lead to negative emotions and unhealthy behaviors. Some common cognitive distortions include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and catastrophizing. According to Beck, cognitive distortions play an important role in the development and furtherance of mental health issues, which is why they should be addressed through cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Through his significant contributions to the field of psychology, Beck has revolutionized how mental health professionals identify and address psychological issues. His research has greatly influenced our understanding of mental illness and treatment approaches. Through his extensive exploration into automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions, Dr. Beck has made tremendous strides in helping those living with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and OCD find solace through successful therapeutic treatments.

1) Arbitrary Inference:

Automatic thoughts are quick, unconscious thoughts that can pop into one’s mind without conscious effort or control. They can be triggered by a variety of internal or external stimuli, and are often automatic and automatic responses to certain situations or events.

Arbitrary inference can be an automatic thought when it involves making quick, unconscious conclusions or assumptions about a situation or event based on limited or biased information. For example, if someone is presented with incomplete or misleading information about a person or situation, they may automatically make an arbitrary inference about that person or situation without consciously thinking through the evidence or considering alternative perspectives.

Automatic thoughts can be influenced by a variety of factors, including past experiences, biases, and emotional states. They can also have a significant impact on one’s behavior and decision-making, as automatic thoughts can shape the way we perceive and respond to the world around us. It is important to recognize and challenge automatic thoughts, particularly when they involve arbitrary inference, in order to avoid making flawed or biased conclusions.

Here are a few examples of sentences that involve arbitrary inference:

  1. “She must be lying because I don’t believe her.”
  2. “He’s from a different country, so he can’t possibly be as smart as me.”
  3. “She got the job because she’s more attractive than the other candidates.”

Here are a few examples of scenarios involving arbitrary inference:

  1. A student is told that their classmate cheated on a test and automatically assumes that they are dishonest without considering any other evidence or alternative explanations.
  2. Someone sees a group of people who are dressed differently or have different cultural backgrounds and automatically assumes that they are inferior or less intelligent without any basis for this assumption.
  3. A person hears that a colleague has been promoted and automatically assumes that they are more qualified or capable than others without considering other factors that may have contributed to the promotion.

In each of these examples, the person is making an inference about someone or something based on limited or biased information, rather than considering all of the evidence or alternative perspectives. These types of inferences can be problematic, as they can lead to flawed or biased conclusions.

2) Selective Abstraction:

Selective abstraction is a cognitive bias in which a person focuses on a single aspect of a situation or event while ignoring other relevant information. This type of thinking can lead to an incomplete or distorted understanding of a situation and can have significant consequences on one’s decision-making and behavior.

As an automatic thought, selective abstraction can involve quickly focusing on a single aspect of a situation without considering the full context or other relevant information. For example, a person may hear about a colleague’s success and automatically focus on the fact that they worked hard while ignoring other factors that may have contributed to their success, such as luck or external circumstances.

Various factors, including past experiences, biases, and emotional states, can influence selective abstraction. It can also be reinforced by confirmation bias, in which a person seeks out or pays more attention to information that confirms their existing beliefs or assumptions.

Challenging and recognizing automatic thoughts that involve selective abstraction can help one to avoid making incomplete or distorted conclusions about a situation or event. It is essential to consider all relevant information and multiple perspectives when making decisions or forming opinions.

Here are a few examples of sentences involving selective abstraction as an automatic thought:

  1. “I failed the test because I’m not smart enough, not because I didn’t study enough.”
  2. “She’s rude because she’s from a different country, not because she’s having a bad day.”
  3. “He only got the promotion because he’s the boss’s favorite, not because he worked hard.”

In each of these examples, the person is focusing on a single aspect of a situation or event and ignoring other relevant information. This type of automatic thought can lead to flawed or distorted conclusions about the situation.

Here are a few examples of scenarios involving selective abstraction as an automatic thought:

  1. A student receives a low grade on a test and automatically assumes it’s because they are not intelligent, rather than considering other factors such as a lack of study or distractions during the test.
  2. Someone encounters a rude store clerk and automatically assumes it’s because of their nationality, rather than considering other factors such as a bad day or personal problems.
  3. A person sees a colleague receive a promotion and automatically assumes it’s because they are the boss’s favorite, rather than considering other factors such as hard work and qualifications.

In each of these scenarios, the person is making an automatic assumption about the situation based on a single aspect, rather than considering the full context and all relevant information. Selective abstraction as an automatic thought can lead to incomplete or biased conclusions about the situation.

3) All-or-Nothing Thinking:

All-or-nothing thinking, commonly known as dichotomous thinking or black-and-white thinking, is one of the automatic thoughts where a situation is only perceived as having two possible outcomes – success or failure. In reality, most situations have numerous solutions and outcomes that are neither completely positive nor negative.

It can lead to immediately jumping to catastrophic conclusions and placing unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Automatic thoughts can be internal dialogues or remarks we automatically make when faced with obstacles – they can be based on experiences that intensify all-or-nothing thinking, such as believing one bad grade on an exam defines your intelligence overall. This pattern of thought often comes with heightened emotional responses such as feeling overwhelmed and overwhelmed excessively by the outcome of everyday activities. Reevaluating these automatic thoughts with more realistic expectations allows us to move beyond these rigid ways of thinking and find effective solutions in our everyday lives.

Here are a few examples of sentences involving all-or-nothing thinking as an automatic thought:

  1. “I’m either a complete success or a complete failure.”
  2. “He’s either the best or the worst person I’ve ever met.”
  3. “She’s either perfect or a complete mess.”

Here are a few examples of scenarios involving all-or-nothing thinking as an automatic thought:

  1. A student receives a low grade on a test and automatically assumes they are a complete failure, rather than considering that they may have performed well on other tests or have strengths in other areas.
  2. Someone encounters a rude store clerk and automatically assumes they are the worst person they have ever met, rather than considering that the clerk may have had a bad day or been going through personal problems.
  3. A person sees a colleague receive a promotion and automatically assumes they are perfect and have no flaws, rather than considering that everyone has weaknesses and mistakes.

In each of these examples, the person is viewing the situation or event in absolute terms, without considering the complexity or shades of gray. These automatic thoughts can lead to overly simplistic or biased conclusions about the situation.

4) Overgeneralization:

According to Aaron T. Beck, overgeneralization is a type of cognitive distortion that involves making broad and negative conclusions based on limited evidence. When a person overgeneralizes, they may draw conclusions about their entire life or future based on a single negative experience or event. For example, someone who overgeneralizes might say, “I’ll never be good at anything” after failing a test, or “No one likes me” after being rejected by a friend.

Overgeneralization is one of the few automatic thoughts described by Beck. It can be a negative and unhelpful way of thinking that can lead to negative emotions and unhealthy behaviors.

Here are some examples of overgeneralization as an automatic thought:

  1. “I didn’t get the promotion at work, so I’m never going to be successful in my career.”
  2. “I didn’t do well on my math test, so I’m not smart.”
  3. “I got rejected by one person, so I’m never going to find love.”
  4. “I got into a fight with my friend, so I’m a terrible person.”

In these examples, the person is making broad and negative conclusions about their entire life or future based on a single negative experience or event.

5) Magnification and Minimization:

Aaron T. Beck describes magnification and minimization as two kinds of automatic thoughts that can have a negative effect on daily life. Magnification is when someone exaggerates their flaws or misfortunes, turning everyday problems into insurmountable issues. On the other hand, minimization is when someone downplays their successes and discounts their accomplishments, dampening the satisfaction of achievements.

The harmful effects of automatically engaging in these thinking styles are well documented: patients who employ magnifying and minimizing cognitive behaviors show higher levels of stress and decreased problem-solving abilities. By understanding the dynamics of magnification and minimization, we can work to better recognize these false beliefs and avoid the pitfalls they present.

Here are some examples of magnification as an automatic thought:

  1. “I made one mistake on my presentation, so it was a complete disaster.”
  2. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted on my exams, so I’m a total failure.”
  3. “I had one argument with my partner, so our relationship is over.”
  4. “I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, so I’m never going to achieve my career goals.”

In these examples, the person is exaggerating the importance or negative consequences of a single event or experience.

Here are some examples of minimization as an automatic thought:

  1. “I did well on my presentation, but it was just luck.”
  2. “I got a good grade on my exam, but it was an easy test.”
  3. “I had a good relationship with my partner, but it wasn’t really that special.”
  4. “I got the promotion I wanted, but it wasn’t that hard to get.”

In these examples, the person is minimizing the importance or positive consequences of a single event or experience. Without appropriate intervention, these automatic thoughts can lead to adverse emotions and destructive habits. To stay in a sound mental state with sensible perspectives, it’s beneficial to confront and rectify those kinds of thinking.

6) Labeling:

According to Aaron T. Beck, labeling is a type of cognitive distortion that involves assigning negative labels to oneself or others based on a single event or characteristic. When a person labels themselves or others, they may use extreme or overly broad language to describe themselves or others, such as “failure,” “stupid,” or “terrible.” This type of thinking can lead to negative emotions and unhealthy behaviors, as the person may believe that their negative label accurately reflects their entire identity or worth.

Beck believed that addressing and correcting cognitive distortions, such as labeling, can be an important part of cognitive-behavioral therapy for mental health disorders. By identifying and challenging negative labels, a person can begin to see themselves and others more realistically and make more balanced and healthy decisions.

Here are some examples of labeling as an automatic thought:

  1. “I’m a failure because I didn’t get the promotion at work.”
  2. “I’m stupid because I didn’t do well on my math test.”
  3. “My partner is untrustworthy because they didn’t tell me something.”
  4. “My colleague is lazy because they didn’t finish their work on time.”

In these examples, the person assigns a negative label to themselves and someone else based on a single event or characteristic. These automatic thoughts are instances of labeling and can cause damaging emotions as well as detrimental actions. To ensure a more reasonable outlook, it can be beneficial to challenge and refute this sort of reasoning.

7) Personalization:


Personalization is one of the automatic thoughts described by Dr. Beck, and it is a phenomenon where individuals inadvertently and automatically assume any negative event was their fault. This type of thinking has become increasingly common in today’s society and can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s mental health and self-esteem.

Personalization often extends past blaming the self for difficult events and taking on the role of being responsible for feeling beyond one’s control, such as trying to fix the world’s problems. It is important that we become aware of these pervasively problematic thoughts and seek validation from others instead of blaming ourselves. With recognition, understanding, and awareness, this issue can be effectively addressed to lead to better mental health.

Here are some examples of personalization as an automatic thought:

  1. “It’s my fault that the project was a failure because I didn’t work hard enough.”
  2. “I’m the reason my relationship is in trouble because I’m not good enough.”
  3. “I’m responsible for the team’s loss because I didn’t play well.”
  4. “It’s my fault that my friend is upset because I didn’t listen to them.”

In these examples, the person is attributing external events or circumstances to themselves, even when they are not directly responsible or in control

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Automatic Thoughts – Source

What Can You Do to Get Rid of Automatic Thoughts?

According to Aaron T. Beck, one way to address and change automatic thoughts is through the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on helping people identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior. In CBT, a person works with a therapist to identify their automatic thoughts and challenge them with more realistic and balanced thinking.

Here are some steps that a person might take in CBT to address and change automatic thoughts:

  1. Identify automatic thoughts: The first step in addressing automatic thoughts is to become aware of them. This can be done through self-reflection or with the help of a therapist.
  2. Challenge the thought: Once a person has identified an automatic thought, they can work with a therapist to challenge it using evidence and logic. This may involve examining the evidence for and against the thought, looking for alternative explanations, and considering the consequences of believing the thought.
  3. Replace the thought: After challenging an automatic thought, the next step is to replace it with a more balanced and realistic thought. This may involve coming up with a new thought that takes into account all of the evidence and is based on reality.
  4. Test the new thought: Finally, the person can test out their new thought by observing the effects it has on their emotions and behavior. If the new thought leads to more positive emotions and healthy behaviors, it may be a more realistic and helpful way of thinking.

Beck’s work on cognitive-behavioral therapy has been widely influential in the field of psychology, and his ideas and techniques have been applied to the treatment of a wide range of mental health disorders. For more information, you can refer to Beck’s book “Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders,” which was published in 1979 and is considered a classic in the field of psychology.

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Thought Record – Source

References:

  1. “Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders” by Aaron T. Beck
  2. “The Cognitive Behavioural Workbook for Depression: A Step-by-Step Programme to Change Negative Thinking” by William J. Knaus
  3. “Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky
  4. “The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution” by David A. Clark and Aaron T. Beck
  5. “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time” by Alex Korb
  6. “The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert
  7. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D. Burns
  8. “Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again” by Jeffrey E. Young and Janet S. Klosko
  9. “The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt” by Russ Harris
  10. “The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook” by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay

Last Updated on December 16, 2022 by Lucas Berg

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Marilyn Walker

I am studying in Florida about Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I'm doing research on Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), Cognitive psychology, Metacognitive Therapy.
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