How to Do a CBT Worksheet – Thought Record

The CBT worksheet (also called a thought record) is the basic tool of cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a series of questions that lead you step-by-step through the process of challenging your thinking and changing it.

You can do a CBT worksheet - thought record about any experience that you would like to have handled differently. It helps you review and reflect on your thinking after the fact, when you’re not reacting out of fear or anger, and helps you replace negative thinking with healthier thinking. You can write a CBT worksheet about any past or current experiences. Start with easy ones at first.

Ask your therapist or doctor if cognitive therapy is right for you. These techniques can complement the work you do with your therapist or doctor, but they are best done in combination with professional guidance.


1. The situation. Briefly describe the situation that led to your unpleasant feelings. This will help you remember the situation later if you review your notes.
I said something wrong at a social event. I felt embarrassed and later I felt anxious thinking about it.

2. Initial thought. What thought first crossed your mind? This was probably a subconscious or automatic thought that you have had before.
I feel like a failure. I worry that people will judge me. I hate that I feel this way, and that I’m always making dumb mistakes.

3. Consider the consequences. Why do you want to change your thinking? Consider the short-term and long-term consequences if you don’t change? Look at the psychological, physical, professional, and relationship consequences.
If I continue to think like this, and beat myself up, I will feel miserable. My negativity might affect my relationships and possibly my health. If I continue to think I’m a failure, I will lose my self-respect and start to act like a failure.

4. Challenge your initial thought. How successful has this thinking been for you in the past? What facts do you have that support or challenge your initial thought? What strengths do you have that you may be overlooking? What advice would you give someone else in the same situation?
I feel overwhelmed when I try to be perfect.I'm hard on myself. I don't have to be perfect. People who always beat themselves up are boring. I prefer people who are kind to themselves.Other people make mistakes and it’s not a big deal. I am not this critical of them.

5. [Optional] Negative thinking. Summarize the kind of negative thinking behind your initial thought. Identify one or more of the basic types of negative thinking: All-or-nothing, Focusing on the negatives, Catastrophizing, Negative self-labelling, Excessive need for approval, Mind reading, Should statements.
I was self-labeling and focusing on the negatives. I was mind-reading that people dislike me.

6. [Optional] Background. When did you first have initial thoughts like this? How deep do the roots go? Do you know anyone else who thinks like this? How successful has this thinking been for them?
I can hear the voice of my parent saying that I’m a failure and that I’ll never amount to anything.

7. Alternative thinking. Now that you understand your negative thinking, look for a healthier way of thinking about the situation. How could you have handled it differently?
I don't have to be perfect. Nobody is. I have some strengths that people appreciate. I want to get rid of this negative thinking. I feel better when I am kind to myself.

8. Positive belief and affirmation. Write down an affirmation, in a positive form, that reflects your healthier approach. Choose something that you can use as a reminder.
Everybody makes mistakes. Be kind to yourself.

9. Action plan. What can you do if this situation arises again? How can you prepare for the situation? Write a list of strengths you bring to the situation? Knowing your tendencies, what can you do if you fall back on old habits?
Before I go into a social setting, I will remind myself that being hard on myself is boring. If I make a mistake, I won't dwell on the negatives. I will remind myself of my past successes. I will remember to be kind to myself and others.

10. Improvement. Do you feel slightly better or more optimistic? This step reinforces the idea that if you change your thinking, you will change your life.

If you write a thought record every day for a month, you will begin to see the recurring themes in your automatic thoughts and where they take you. It will also be easier for you to spot your negative thinking and quickly come up with healthy alternatives.

The CBT Worksheet and Self-Change

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective because it takes you step-by-step through the process of self-change.

  • Steps 1-2 describe the situation and help you identify what you need to change.
  • Step 3 helps to motivate to change and let go of your negative thinking.
  • Steps 4-6 help you see that your negative thinking is not based on facts, but is driven by false beliefs that you have probably learned.
  • Steps 7-8 help you come up with healthier ways of thinking and crystalize them into an affirmation.
  • Steps 9-10 help you incorporate your new thinking into your life.

CBT Worksheet - Thought Record Template

Here is an online version of a CBT worksheet - thought record template and a pdf version that you can print without restrictions.

The CBT Worksheet and the Traditional Thought Record

The thought record was originally developed by Dr. A. Beck. The traditional thought record uses a column format. This is the format also used in the books “Feeling Good” and “Mind over Mood.” You write your thoughts on specially lined paper within columns. There are usually five or six columns representing five or six questions per thought record.

The CBT worksheet uses a journal format, where each step starts a new line. The obvious advantage is that you have more room to write. The CBT worksheet also has more room for questions, which helps you look deeper and make deeper changes.

Traditional Thought Record

CBT Worksheet

Last Modified: August 6, 2018