Clean Up Negative ‘Automatic Thoughts’ to Stay Motivated

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By Alvina Acquaye, LCPC

Do you ever wonder why your mood may change without a clear idea of what caused it? Or why your motivation is at times nonexistent?

“Automatic thoughts” are the thoughts that automatically arise in certain moments. These thoughts stem from your personal belief system and can arise at any time. They also play a major role in how you perceive certain situations and how you determine your next steps.

Since life, in general, is moving so fast, we often cannot consciously recognize when these thoughts are popping up. The negative space they create, however, can totally derail your motivation take you away from your focus on the goals you’ve set for yourself—whether that’s running a marathon or just getting back into the groove of consistent workouts.

These automatic thoughts are officially known as “cognitive distortions” and can be defined as “irrational thoughts that can influence how you feel.” A few examples include:

  • Catastrophizing: Only seeing the worst possible outcome in a situation. Ex. “I shouldn’t even try because I know I’m going to fail.”

  • ‘All-or-Nothing’ Thinking: Only see things two ways or in extremes, there is no middle ground. Ex. “If I can’t run a full marathon, then there’s no point in even training.”

  • Jumping to Conclusions: Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence. Ex. “People will think I’m stupid for getting into this race.”

  • “Should” statements: Believing that you should be at a certain level, so that anything outside of that self-imposed benchmark leaves you disappointed that you aren’t perfect. Ex. “I should always be able to run 5 miles.”

The way we see our world starts with the things we think and say to ourselves. Being cognizant of this is key. The first steps involve Identifying ways to challenge old ways of thinking in order to build up your ‘self-concept’, to start believing that you are capable of anything and giving yourself the grace to try. All you need is a plan and you’re halfway there.

Use the following tips to get started with working on your own automatic thoughts:

Identify when you’re having these thoughts and put a label on it.

Keep a log of this on your calendar or journal so that, when it happens, you can identify that perhaps you’re “Catastrophizing” right now and need to just take a step back. Seeing patterns in when these thoughts occur can also help you figure out what triggered this thought and help you better handle it the next time it arises.  

Ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought?”

Is there another way you can look at this situation? Stopping to consider this helps you see things from a different perspective and can bring you back to focus what you want without giving up too easily.

Replace that Automatic Thought with a more rational one.

Instead, try, “I will be able to do this”, “I am good enough”, or “I don’t know what people think of me and so all I can do is focus on what I know.” Being able to replace those thoughts will allow you to begin looking at situations more positively and will soon have you shouting to the rooftops, “I’ve got this!”.

Once you start to challenge your thoughts, that’s when you’ll start to take control of how it affects you. Then, you’re bound to see the limitless things you’re able to focus your energy on. Your mind gets a bit clearer, you’ll exude a different type of energy, and you’ll become more in tune with what you need to cross that finish line you never thought possible.

Follow Alvina’s journey on Instagram @alviesmarts.


Alvina Acquaye


Alvina Acquaye, LCPC is a licensed psychotherapist who also works in the research field. She likes to simplify how people engage in their environments and helps them to have a better understanding of how they create a life that is their own. When she’s not working, her self-care is a priority and tending to her plants follows. You can find her exploring the D.C. area and posting on, her mental wellness and lifestyle blog.

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