Find out how to stop negative #selftalk and be more #confident with the #cognitive triangle on

How To Stop Negative Self-Talk: The Cognitive Triangle


If you find yourself reading this blog post, I think it is safe to say that, like most people, you experience some degree of negative self-talk from time to time. Unfortunately, this habitual way of thinking can lead to a host of other difficulties, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depressed moods
  • Anger
  • Engaging in behaviors that are counterproductive (overeating, drinking too much, avoiding positive experiences, procrastinating …)
  • Relationship issues
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Etc. etc. etc….

The truth is, these are all perfectly normal experiences that we all occasionally have to tolerate. Chances are, you have likely fallen victim to at least some of these issues (or others) in your life.

Where this becomes problematic is when these thoughts, emotions, and actions begin to trap us into cycles or patterns that significantly reduce our quality of life.

What is negative self-talk

Are you currently dealing with negative self-talk? Anxiety? Depression?

If so, you may be caught up in one of these patterns. This blog post was written specifically with YOU in mind!

One of the first steps that I take with my clients, in order to dismantle these unhelpful patterns, is to identify what the individuals’ primary concerns are.

Some examples would include:

  • “I’m having difficulty staying focused in school. Often, I will ‘forget’ to complete assignments on time. Sometimes it becomes so stressful, I just want to cry.”
  • “I recently found out my boyfriend is cheating on me, but he has apologized. I know it is because of my weight. I’m planning on going without food for a while.. I don’t like my body.”
  • “I just feel anxious all the time. When my friends invite me to go out with them I always come up with an excuse, like ‘I’m not feeling well’ or ‘I already have plans’ so that I don’t have to be around other people. Why can’t I just feel normal?”

What is the cognitive triangle

Notice that in each of the above examples, there are three elements:

  1. Thoughts or beliefs (example: ‘I know it is because of my weight’)
  2. Emotions (example: anxious, depressed)
  3. Actions (example: not eating)

Once these elements of the presenting problem become more clear, I will typically explain what is known as ‘The Cognitive Triangle’ to my clients:


As you can see, this graphic indicates a specific type of relationship that exists between thoughts, emotions, and actions. Specifically, thoughts typically result from some event which, in turn, influences emotions. These emotions then influence our actions, which then influences our thoughts further, and the cycle continues.


Consider the following example:



Notice how the event (Jeff’s friend invites him to a birthday party) causes Jeff to have the thought ‘I won’t know anyone there. Nobody will talk to me and they will notice that I am nervous’. Immediately following these thoughts, Jeff begins to breathe more heavily and his heart rate increases. He is feeling anxious as a result of these thoughts. In order to alleviate some of this anxiety, Jeff decides to avoid the party altogether by telling his friend that he has other plans.

Try it out

Now it is your turn!

Choose a recent situation or event that caused you to feel and act in ways that were distressing or unhelpful and draw out a cognitive triangle:



Now, this may seem like a fairly simple exercise, but this is a very important first step in addressing negative or unhelpful patterns in your life. By simply paying attention to the ways in which situations/events influence your thinking, emotions, and actions, you can begin to take a ‘step back’ from this cycle and notice the profound influence that thinking can have on your mental health.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post, as we will explore specific ways to challenge the unhelpful thoughts and actions which perpetuate these negative cycles.

Click here to read part 2: How to Stop Negative Self-talk by Identifying Cognitive Distortions

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Find out how to stop negative #selftalk and be more #confident with the #cognitive triangle on


Further reading:

Over to you

Share your cognitive triangle in the comments!



James Voss, MA, LMHCA

James is a mental health counselor, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and substance use related issues. James emphasizes the therapeutic relationship with his clients and uses a wide range of techniques to help reduce distress and foster psychological flexibility.

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