Negative Automatic Thoughts (ANTs): Great Examples and 3 Useful Worksheets For You

Psychologists often talk about how our thoughts can affect our mood and behavior. Negative automatic thoughts, or NATs as they are sometimes called, are those toxic thoughts that we have to ourselves on a regular basis. These thoughts usually start with “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve this happiness/success/love etc.” 

Negative Automatic Thoughts come from the belief that you need to be perfect in order to be happy. They keep us stuck in self-defeating patterns of thinking and living. In reality though, perfectionism is impossible because life is full of challenges and setbacks which inevitably happen at some point no matter who you are!

 We teach people that they upset themselves. We can’t change the past, so we change how people are thinking, feeling, and behaving today.

Albert Ellis

What are automatic thoughts ?

negative automatic thoughts

Automatic thoughts are mental functions that occur without conscious judgment, deeply affecting our actions and emotions. These thoughts, which occur depending on the events in the environment, originate from our more stable beliefs and schemas. These thoughts are considered by the person to be true.

Why Negative Automatic Thoughts Are Important?

Negative automatic thoughts are very important because they can signal behavioural problems, mental disorders, and mental health issues.

Many studies have shown that individuals who struggle with negative thoughts often experience low self-esteem, depression, anger management problems and other similar mental illnesses due to these adverse effects. Although people usually do not remember these thoughts once the “thought bubble” has popped on their screen or in their head, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to be able to discern when an individual can benefit from therapy by simply reading through their negative thoughts.

The characteristics of negative automatic thoughts are that they are often irrational, and may include statements like “I can’t do this”, or “I’m a failure”. They also tend to be very negative.
Negative automatic thoughts can be destructive, leading to feelings of guilt and shame. It’s important to recognize these thoughts for what they are – just thoughts, without any basis in reality.

According to Albert Ellis, rational thoughts lead to healthy emotions and irrational thoughts lead to unhealthy emotions.

negative automatic thoughts
Automatic thoughts are always with us. We have to get rid of them.

Automatic thoughts come from beliefs that are deeper in our mental structure. Before moving on to the subject of beliefs, it will be useful to talk about the intellectual errors that occur at the level of automatic thoughts.

When the automatic thoughts that distress the person are examined, it can be observed that there are some obvious errors during this thinking process. These errors are called cognitive distortions in cognitive therapy.

Typical mistakes in our automatic thoughts include the following:

What Are the Negative Automatic Thoughts Patterns?

List of Negative Thoughts

Selective Detection:

Selective detection is the tendency to show evidence that supports our own beliefs and discards information that contradicts one’s opinion. For example, in a conversation about climate change, somebody who believes in climate change will selectively notice more evidence supporting their claim of global warming while disregarding any opposing data.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“Negative response came from job interview: No one would hire me.”

“Currently there are students not interested in the lesson: I am an unsuccessful teacher.”

“He didn’t accept my offer to go to dinner : He doesn’t want to be with me.

Mind Reading:

Mind reading is a cognitive distortion where individuals make their own judgments of others’ motives, thoughts and intentions. In truth, the only person with access to another person’s mind is the individual who owns it.

In reality mind reading often manifests in different forms of anxiety disorders such as panic disorder or social anxiety disorder where factual information does not match up to their expectations in which they believe that if they think in a certain way then you will respond in just that kind of way. This form of worry and distrust gets played out in many ways with low levels showing up as people lacking trust in friendships and relationships while high levels manifesting themselves as paranoia about having done something wrong when there was no intention for so such an action at all.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“I think I asked the wrong question. He thinks I’m stupid.

“I ordered too many. She thinks I’m greedy.


Exaggeration is a cognitive distortion that means you inflate the importance of something in the past. For example, if someone looked at your house and said it looked like tiny little log cabin with some funny looking porches on it then you might think they were trying to put you down or that they saw into your soul; when in truth, all they meant was that it was smaller than average for its style.

Exaggeration affects your thoughts about things. For people with this distortion, exaggeration is whether or not something has happened yet or has happened within their lifetime. Exaggerations often lower self-esteem and confidence. The person exaggerating may seem less believable to others.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“I’m getting worse and I’ll sink to the bottom.”

“If I say what I think, the person in front of me will be hurt and very angry.”

“If I say you made a mistake, it will be ruined.”

“It couldn’t be worse.”


The person even underestimates the positive events he experiences. He may think these successes are not his It’s the feeling that something is of little worth. To feel disdainful of someone or something would be to find them unimportant, unkind, unworthy of one’s time, or generally worthless. Disdain can be categorized as beliefs about others (low expectations), about one’s self (infinite capacity), and about the world in general (something is wrong with it).

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“It doesn’t matter if I get good grades from the exam. Anyone could do that.”

“The reason they keep me at work is not because they like what I do, but because they can’t find anyone else.”

“My loved ones are with me because they feel sorry for me.”


Overgeneralization is a cognitive distortion. It occurs when the person making the overgeneralization draws an overly broad conclusion based on their feelings about an experience or event. For example, if Alice gets into one argument at work today, she might believe that her coworkers are always in a bad mood in general and not worth being friends with in general because of the one argument she had at work today even though there were no signs before to lead her to believe this was true.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“All people are selfish.”

“Nobody respects me.”

“Nothing is going right.”

“He never said he loved me.”


Personal comparisons are made or personal connections are made about the events and people in the eIndividualization is a cognitive distortion with two components: both overestimating the degree to which people’s thoughts and actions are unique, and believing that those thoughts and actions have tremendous meaning.

Examples of this might be “I am the only one who feels this way” or “Unless I do things my own way, they will not turn out right.” In some ways, it sounds as though these aspects of individualization are connected. If you believe you’re doing what needs to be done so things can turn out right, then it could sound as though you have no room for other people’s perspectives because your own is the only thing that matters.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“How full of self-confidence. I am a complete idiot next to him.”

“How happy people are. How unhappy I am among them.”

Thinking of All or Nothing Style:

All-or-nothing thinking is a cognitive distortion where your view of circumstances are oversimplified either negatively or positively.

Negative all-or-nothing extreme behavior often occurs in the form of “must” statements, excessive self criticism, high expectations that are auto imposed on oneself with no sense of appreciation for what has actually been accomplished. Positive all-or-nothing extreme behavior may take place in the form of grandiose thoughts about anything you do manage to accomplish, feeling elated when good things happen but feeling panicky when bad things happen. There’s no acknowledgement that not everything can be perfect under any given circumstance – life doesn’t work like that.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“I got a poor grade in mathematics. I am a very unsuccessful student.”

“If he said he didn’t love me, he would never again.”

“I haven’t made much money this month, I think I’ll go bankrupt.”

Illusion of Control:

The illusion of control as a cognitive distortion is the overestimation of personal responsibility over a belief that events are caused by oneself. People who hold this faulty belief believe they have power and control with which to direct outcomes–whether it be in one’s own life or in global matters.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“It was my fault that my patient did not recover.”

“I am responsible for what happened to my brother.”

Arbitrary Inference:

he Arbitrary Inference distortion is a negative cognitive distortion where you wrongly believe that what doesn’t fit with your preconception must be wrong.

In the case of the example, people might suspect a serial killer is at large, but after some time it becomes clear this individual had a good alibi and was ruled out as a suspect – some might cling to their belief that they were “sure” or feel regretful for accusing someone who seems innocent.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“He doesn’t want to be with me because he sees me as a simple woman.”

“If I articulate my feelings I will lose people.”

“Women only love men they find handsome and humorous.”


Labeling is a special kind of cognitive distortion in which an emotionally charged thought becomes categorical, unconditional, and unquestioned. It is the act of jumping to conclusions about your experience based on limited information.

The act of labeling good or bad thoughts prevents you from making sense out of what’s happening now by placing it into mental categories that seclude it from any other aspect or consideration associated with that category. A good rule-of-thumb is not to attach a single word evaluation to a single observation or thought – especially if that evaluation comes before the conclusion was drawn.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s such an unstable man.”

“He offered me very little money. He’s a mean person.”

“Sometimes I think I’m not interested in him. I’m a selfish person.”

Emotional Decisions

Thoughts arising from the belief that what one feels about the event or people will be true.

Example Negative automatic thoughts;

“At first sight I felt what kind of person he was.”

“I feel like people are scratching me.

Examples of negative automatic thoughts anxiety

“What if someone notices I am nervous?” “I am going to screw this up.”
“People will laugh at me.” “I am going to fail this class.”
“I may even have to drop out of school.” “I am not a good public speaker.”

Negative Automatic Thoughts Worksheet

With this worksheet, you can work on your automatic thoughts on your own. That way, you can be aware of your automatic thoughts and replace them with healthier thoughts.

Remember, your thoughts can change your feelings. Do not forget to write down your emotional changes at the end of this study.

negative automatic thoughts (ants): great examples and 3 useful worksheets for you 2
Negative Automatic Thoughts Review Form

PDF negative automatic thoughts pdf

I will upload the sample worksheet to you after a few updates. Thus, you will also get practical information on how to fill in the worksheet.

Negative automatic thoughts examples

I actually can’t do anything.
All men should see me pretty.
I must be very rich.
I must look perfect.
Everyone should talk about me.
I can’t go there.
You can’t trust any people.
All people are monsters.
All spiders are toxic and harmful.

Experts (Therapists) try to change the negative thinking patterns listed above using the CBT techniques. For this, they offer alternative perspective to their clients.

How Do Automatic Negative Thoughts Occur?

Our negative experiences or our beliefs about events affect our thinking process and when we experience the same kind of event, our ‘automatic thoughts’ emerge.

The point is that when we think negatively, we should try to change it. Step by step, we can get rid of the learned helplessness in your brain by transforming negative thoughts into positive ones.

7 CBT Techniques To Eliminate Negative Automatic Thoughts

Negative automatic thoughts lead us to depression and increase anxiety. Therefore, it is very important to get rid of these thoughts. It is possible to get rid of these thoughts by using CBT techniques. This has been scientifically proven. In most cases, negative automatic thoughts completely disappear.

7 CBT Techniques

Keep a diary:

Keeping a diary helps us identify our emotions because it provides us with an outlet to express the negative emotions we feel. This will allow you to get these feelings out of your head so that they stop disrupting your day-to-day life.

negative automatic thoughts (ants): great examples and 3 useful worksheets for you 3
With CBT techniques you can get rid of dark, negative automatic thoughts and be able to live in the moment!

Awareness exercises:

Consciousness enables individuals to monitor what is going on, to be aware of the nature and quality of events as they occur, and to perceive their meaning.

Anthony Stevens

Questioning the accuracy of thoughts:

The most important of the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques is to question the accuracy of false thoughts. Different applications, tests, and exercises have been developed for this purpose. You can also do this with therapy or yourself.

Relaxation exercises:

It is particularly notable for awareness therapy as it makes it easier for a person to think positively about how well he/she feels.


Observation assignments are important in order to be aware of the wrong thinking. The client can practice the gains in therapy and practice exercises. Assignments can also be written. It is applied very frequently in CBT. So the more successful the assignments are, the greater the success rate.

Self-study with books:

The books prepared in accordance with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are definitely a very effective way. There are a lot of books that can help. However, not all of these books are useful so it is necessary to be very careful in selecting a book.

Computer assisted cognitive behavior therapy:

Digital applications are becoming increasingly widespread in recent years. Computer games designed for young people and children are also effective. These programs include cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. With the development of artificial intelligence every year, the area of ​​influence of applications increases.

challenging automatic negative thoughts

The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to challenge automatic negative thoughts and find a more balanced way to view the world. In order to do this, you need to start gathering evidence for your positive beliefs by using an “ABC” chart or journaling process. For example, if you think that no one likes you because people often ignore you in social situations, try writing down all the times someone was friendly towards you during those same interactions. This will help shift your perspective from being pessimistic about other’s intentions toward viewing them as caring individuals who may not have been mindful of how their actions might be interpreted. If CBT sounds like something worth trying out but it feels too complicated at first glance, take comfort knowing that we’re here with support.

Last Updated on January 7, 2022 by Marilyn Walker

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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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