Cognitive Therapy for Performance and Mood

By Jeff Dwarshuis LMSW ACSW 

Much of what a person feels is caused by what is said to themselves. Day after day, people at home and the workplace experience many situations and their perception and related self talk about these situations greatly influence outlook, mood and even health. Unfortunately, much of this self talk can be negative, irrational and incorrect. Negative self talk is automatic and starts in patterns developed during youth. As an adult, this negative talk leads to worry, perfectionism, low self esteem and panic. Socially or in the workplace it creates low mood and anger. Negative and irrational thoughts are called “distortions” and the way to end this irrational process is through what Cognitive Psychologists call – Thought Stopping, Substitution and Reframing.

Thought Stopping

Thought Stopping is the processes of recognizing, interrupting and ending a negative thought. Read the examples below to help identify any thought distortions you may have.

1. “I fell behind on the company expectation. I am such a loser.”

2. “I should have done a better presentation. I will never make it to management.”

3. “This equipment doesn’t work well. It is going to be an awful week.”

4. “Although my department has been successful, it doesn’t matter. We will always be behind.”

5. “My team hates me. Every time I do something wrong they give me the evil eye and wish I would quit.”

Keep in mind that thought distortions are not behaviors but are thoughts. Some people have a great deal of distorted thinking while others have little. In any case, they are automatic by nature and consistent across time. When recognizing a negative thought, write it down and then watch for patterns. People tend to think in patterns. Then, each time you catch yourself, either sit in silence not letting it happen or create a negative association like slapping a rubber band on your wrist. 


After recognizing and stopping the negative thought, create a replacement. This is called substitution. Replace the negative thought with a more realistic and positive description of the situation. This is also called “the rebuttal”. Substitution statements may sound like this –

  1. “I fell behind on the company expectation but I have learned a great deal and did better then last month.”
  2. “My presentation was acceptable. I got my point across and many people are better because of it.”
  3. “The equipment does not work well. This is a perfect opportunity to talk to the salesman and negotiate some changes.”
  4. “My department is successful and will continue to grow and be the best.”
  5. “My team likes me most of the time. This is a good fit.”


Thought stopping and substitution can change how we think, feel and respond. Reframing is an exercise in changing how you think and what you do related to a situational interpretation. It is an active process in considering the positive. Reframing is used well with the automatic thoughts that begin with the words “always” and “never”

These are three steps in Reframing and changing the interpretation of events.

1. Identify several situations that typically produce uncomfortable or distressing feelings.

2. List your automatic thoughts and feelings in each situation.

3. List a more useful way to perceive each situation which offers choices and potential for growth.

Thought Stopping, Substitution and Reframing is a process. Begin by creating a plan. Use a notebook to list negative thoughts, substitutions and reframes. Set aside specific times to address these. After a good beginning effort of 3-6 weeks, the process will become more automatic.


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