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Feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts? These journal prompts for negative thoughts can help you identify, work through, and overcome what is weighing you down.
No one is immune to negative thoughts. At one point or another, we all face thoughts that are overwhelming, defeating, or upsetting.
You are not alone in this.
But, those negative thoughts do not have to control you. By handling them in a productive, healthy, and self-compassionate way, you can help shift your thoughts and, in turn, transform your outlook on life.
Why You Should Journal on Negative Thoughts
When negative thoughts arise, it’s really tempting to squash them as soon as possible. Whether this is through avoidance, distraction, or false positivity, you are still not addressing the true problem at hand.
By journaling for negative thoughts, you are honoring your thoughts and allowing your mind to process them.
Despite any uncomfortable emotions that may arise, this is a really healthy way to handle negative thoughts.
Your thoughts are valid and deserve to be heard.
Stifling these thoughts through toxic positivity or avoidance does not tackle the issue at the root. Instead, try utilizing these journal prompts for negative thoughts to help acknowledge, honor, address, and overcome mental negativity.
The Cognitive Triangle
The cognitive triangle is used most commonly in CBT-based therapy. This triangle represents the tight relationships of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
As shown in the diagram above, the cognitive triangle illustrates how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are not only connected, but exist in a cycle.
Our thoughts directly impact our feelings, which then impact our behaviors, which impact our thoughts – and the cycle continues.
In order to change your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, you must interrupt this cycle.
These journal prompts for negative thoughts include prompts regarding all three areas of the triangle and are intended to help interrupt this cycle from continuing endlessly.
Now that you have a basic understanding of this cycle, let’s dive into those negative thought journaling prompts!
45 Journal Prompts for Negative Thoughts
To get a full, well-rounded idea of these thoughts and how to move through them, I’ve divided these journaling prompts into a few different categories: identifying, understanding, challenging, and replacing.
Depending on what stage you’re in with these negative thoughts, you may find one section more helpful than others.
Identifying Negative Thoughts Journal Prompts
The first step of working through negative thoughts is, of course, identifying the thoughts. If we are not aware of exactly what thoughts are coming up, it is incredibly hard to address and work through them.
Here are some journaling prompts to help identify the negative thoughts in your mind.
- Brain dump any negative thoughts weighing you down right now.
- What negative thought tends to occur the most often?
- Can you identify any cognitive distortions that are affecting you? (Black-and-white thinking, labeling, catastrophizing, mind-reading, etc.)
- How do cognitive distortions present in your daily life?
- When do these thoughts come up the most/feel the strongest?
Understanding Negative Thoughts Journal Prompts
Identifying the exact thoughts is an important first step. Now we can dive into really understanding the negative thought patterns and self-limiting beliefs in our minds.
These journal prompts will guide you towards a better understanding of these thoughts, where they come from, and how you can challenge them moving forward.
- What triggers your negative thoughts?
- Where do your negative thoughts come from?
- How long have these negative thoughts affected you?
- When is the first time you remember thinking these thoughts? Explain.
- Are these thoughts coming from you or from external judgments, beliefs, or pressures?
- Do you believe these thoughts are true?
- What emotions do these thoughts trigger?
- How are your thoughts connected to your behaviors?
- What self-limiting beliefs are at the core of these thoughts? (ie. the thought “I am disliked by others” may be triggered by the belief “I am not enough”…)
- What fears are driving these thoughts?
Challenging Negative Thoughts Journal Prompts
Identifying and understanding negative thoughts is great… but now what? We have to actively challenge these negative thoughts in order to reframe them and free ourselves from their limitations. (Interrupt that cognitive triangle, remember?)
Use these journal prompts for challenging negative thoughts.
- Is this thought helpful?
- Is this thought true?
- What facts do you have to support this thought?
- What facts do you have to counter this thought?
- Is there another way of looking at this?
- How would you respond to this thought if it was that of a loved one?
- How would someone else see this?
- Is this fact or opinion?
- Is this thought stemming from emotion or truth?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- If the worst did happen, what could you do? Who could help you?
- What is another possibility here?
- What is the best possible outcome?
- Has this thought come true before?
- If this has been true before, how did you get through it?
- Are you catastrophizing?
- Do you know what will happen in the future? Can you accurately predict this?
- Are you making assumptions?
- What control do you actually have over this situation?
- Are you speaking to yourself from a place of kindness?
Replacing Negative Thoughts Journal Prompts
Actively replacing negative thought patterns with a more positive pattern is one of the best ways to interrupt the cycle and retrain your mind. This is not to say that negative thoughts will disappear forever, but replacing them is a great tool to have for when they come up.
Here are journal prompts for replacing negative thoughts.
- How can you make this situation feel 5-10% better?
- What is the most self-compassionate way to respond to this thought?
- What can you learn from this?
- Give yourself advice that you’d give a friend.
- What are you grateful for?
- List all the positive outcomes that can happen from this situation.
- How can you act in alignment with your core beliefs?
- How can you practice self-care today?
- What behaviors will make this situation better?
- How can a positive mindset better this situation?
How to Journal Negative Thoughts
Now that you have these negative thought journaling prompts, you may be exploring the “how” a bit more.
How do you start a negative thought journal?
In all honesty, this is highly individual to each journaler. Some people love a formatted or prompted thought journal, while others enjoy freewriting in an empty notebook.
There is no right or wrong here.
Doing what feels best and most natural to you is the most important part.
When to Journal for Negative Thoughts
Again, this is dependent on your personal preference, mindset, and ability to be present during negative thought spirals.
Sometimes, it’s most beneficial to journal right as the thoughts start to arise. Nip them in the bud and stop them in their tracks.
In other cases, it’s best to reflect on negative thoughts in hopes of moving forward in a positive way.
Neither of these are right or wrong. It is simply dependent on your needs, your situation, and what feels the most helpful to you.
I hope that these journaling prompts for negative thoughts can help you interrupt the negative thought-feeling-behavior cycle and, in turn, help you live a more positive and happiness-filled life.
Remember – Negative thoughts are natural and normal. It’s okay to feel down. That’s part of being human. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. Remember that you are capable of more than you feel.
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