Negative Automatic Thoughts (ANTs): A Few Great Examples and 6 Useful Worksheets For You

Psychologists often talk about how our thoughts can affect our mood and behavior. Negative automatic thoughts, or ANTs as they are sometimes called, are those toxic thoughts that we have on a regular basis. These thoughts usually start with “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve this happiness/success/love etc.” 

Negative Automatic Thoughts come from the belief that you need to be perfect in order to be happy. They keep us stuck in self-defeating patterns of thinking and living. In reality, though, perfectionism is impossible because life is full of challenges and setbacks, which inevitably happens at some point, no matter who you are!

We teach people that they upset themselves. We can’t change the past, so we change how people are thinking, feeling, and behaving today.

Albert Ellis

What are automatic thoughts?

negative automatic thoughts

Automatic thoughts are mental functions that occur without conscious judgment, affecting our actions and emotions. These thoughts, which occur depending on the events in the environment, originate from our more stable beliefs and schemas. These thoughts are considered by the person to be true.

Why Negative Automatic Thoughts Are Important?

Negative automatic thoughts are important because they can signal behavioral problems, mental disorders, and mental health issues.

Many studies have shown that individuals who struggle with negative thoughts often experience low self-esteem, depression, anger management problems, and other similar mental illnesses due to these adverse effects.
Although people usually do not remember these thoughts once the “thought bubble” has popped on their screen or in their head, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to be able to discern when an individual can benefit from therapy by simply reading through their negative thoughts.

The characteristics of negative automatic thoughts are that they are often irrational, and may include statements like “I can’t do this”, or “I’m a failure”. They also tend to be very negative.
Negative automatic thoughts can be destructive, leading to feelings of guilt and shame. It’s important to recognize these thoughts for what they are – just thoughts, without any basis in reality.

According to Albert Ellis, rational thoughts lead to healthy emotions, and irrational thoughts lead to unhealthy emotions.

negative automatic thoughts
negative automatic thoughts (ants): a few great examples and 6 useful worksheets for you 5

Automatic thoughts come from beliefs that are deep in our mental structure. Before moving on to the subject of beliefs, it will be useful to talk about the intellectual errors that occur at the level of automatic thoughts.

When the automatic thoughts that distress the person are examined, it can be observed that there are some obvious errors during this thinking process. These errors are called cognitive distortions in cognitive therapy.

Typical mistakes in our automatic thoughts include the following:

What Are the Negative Automatic Thoughts Patterns?

List of Negative Thoughts:

Selective perception:

Selective perceptionas an automatic negative thought is the tendency to focus on and remember negative information while filtering out or disregarding positive information. This type of thinking can lead to a distorted and negative view of oneself, others, and the world.

For example, an individual who has a negative automatic thought pattern of selective attention may only remember the criticism they received from others while forgetting the compliments or positive feedback they received. This can lead to negative emotions and can interfere with problem-solving and decision-making.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • A negative response came from a job interview: “No one would hire me.”
  • Currently, there are students not interested in your lesson: “I am an unsuccessful teacher.”
  • Someone didn’t accept your offer to go to dinner: “They don’t want to be with me.

Mind Reading:

Mind reading is a cognitive distortion where individuals make their own judgments of others’ motives, thoughts, and intentions. In truth, the only person with access to another person’s mind is the individual who owns it.

In reality, mind reading often manifests in different forms of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or social anxiety disorder, where factual information does not match up to their expectations in which they believe that if they think in a certain way, then you will respond in just that kind of way. This form of worry and distrust gets played out in many ways, with low levels showing up as people lacking trust in friendships and relationships while high levels manifesting themselves as paranoia about having done something wrong when there was no intention for so such an action at all.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “I think I asked the wrong question. He thinks I’m stupid.
  • “I ordered too many. She thinks I’m greedy.


Exaggeration is a cognitive distortion that means you inflate the importance of something in the past. For example, if someone looked at your house and said it looked like a tiny little log cabin with some funny-looking porches on it, then you might think they were trying to put you down or that they saw into your soul. In truth, all they meant was that it was smaller than average for its style.

Exaggeration affects your thoughts about things. For people with this distortion, exaggeration is whether or not something has happened yet or has happened within their lifetime. Exaggerations often lower self-esteem and confidence. The person exaggerating may seem less believable to others.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “I’m getting worse, and I’ll sink to the bottom.”
  • “If I say what I think, the person in front of me will be hurt and very angry.”
  • “If I say you made a mistake, you will be ruined.”
  • “It couldn’t be worse.”


The person even underestimates the positive events he experiences. To feel disdainful of someone or something would be to find them unimportant, unkind, unworthy of one’s time, or generally worthless. Disdain can be categorized as beliefs about others (low expectations), about one’s self (infinite capacity), and about the world in general (something is wrong with it).

Examples of negative automatic thoughts;

  • “It doesn’t matter if I get good grades on the exam. Anyone could do that.”
  • “The reason they keep me at work is not that they like what I do but because they can’t find anyone else.”
  • “My loved ones are with me because they feel sorry for me.”


Overgeneralization is a cognitive distortion. It occurs when the person making the overgeneralization draws an overly broad conclusion based on their feelings about an experience or event.

For example, if Alice gets into one argument at work today, she might believe that her coworkers are always in a bad mood in general and not worth being friends with in general because of the one argument she had with work today even though there were no signs before to lead her to believe this was true.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “All people are selfish.”
  • “Nobody respects me.”
  • “Nothing is going right.”
  • “He never said he loved me.”


Personalization as a negative automatic thought is the tendency to blame oneself for negative events or circumstances, rather than attributing them to external factors. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and other negative emotions.

It can also interfere with problem-solving and decision-making, as individuals may be less likely to consider alternative explanations or seek support from others when faced with difficult situations. It is important to recognize and challenge this type of thinking in order to maintain a healthy and balanced perspective.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “How full of self-confidence… I am a complete idiot next to him.”
  • “How happy people are. How unhappy I am among them.”


All-or-nothing thinking is a cognitive distortion where your view of circumstances is oversimplified either negatively or positively.

Negative all-or-nothing extreme behavior often occurs in the form of “must” statements, excessive self-criticism, and high expectations that are auto-imposed on oneself with no sense of appreciation for what has actually been accomplished.

Positive all-or-nothing extreme behavior may take place in the form of grandiose thoughts about anything you do manage to accomplish, feeling elated when good things happen but feeling panicky when bad things happen. There’s no acknowledgment that not everything can be perfect under any given circumstance – life doesn’t work like that.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “I got a poor grade in mathematics. I am a very unsuccessful student.”
  • “If he said he didn’t love me, he would never again.”
  • “I haven’t made much money this month, I think I’ll go bankrupt.”

The Illusion of Control:

The illusion of control as a cognitive distortion is the overestimation of personal responsibility over a belief that events are caused by oneself. People who hold this faulty belief believe they have power and control with which to direct outcomes–whether it be in one’s own life or in global matters.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “It was my fault that my patient did not recover.”
  • “I am responsible for what happened to my brother.”

Arbitrary Inference:

Arbitrary inference is a type of negative automatic thought that involves drawing conclusions without sufficient evidence. This type of thinking can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and other negative outcomes.

For example, if an individual makes an arbitrary inference about someone else’s intentions or actions, they may react in a way that is not warranted by the situation, potentially causing harm or resentment. It is important to recognize and challenge arbitrary inferences in order to avoid making assumptions and to maintain healthy and productive relationships.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “He doesn’t want to be with me because he sees me as a simple woman.”
  • “If I articulate my feelings, I will lose people.”
  • “Women only love men they find handsome and humorous.”


Labeling is a type of negative automatic thought that involves attaching a negative label to oneself or others based on a single characteristic or behavior. This type of thinking can be damaging because it can lead to overgeneralization and stereotyping, as well as undermining self-esteem and self-confidence.

For example, if an individual labels themselves as “stupid” because they made a mistake, they may become discouraged and may not try to improve or learn from the experience. It is important to recognize and challenge this type of thinking in order to avoid harmful and unhelpful labels and to maintain a positive and balanced perspective.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s such an unstable man.”
  • “He offered me very little money. He’s a mean person.”
  • “Sometimes I think I’m not interested in him. I’m a selfish person.”

Emotional Decisions:

Emotional decisions are decisions that are made based on emotions rather than reason or evidence. This type of decision-making can be problematic because emotions can be unpredictable and can cloud judgment. As a result, emotional decisions can lead to rash and impulsive actions, as well as poor outcomes.

It is important to recognize when emotions are influencing decision-making and to try to make decisions based on facts, logic, and consideration of the potential consequences. This can help to ensure that decisions are well-informed and in line with an individual’s goals and values.

Example of negative automatic thoughts:

  • “I’m so angry at him, I don’t care if it’s the right thing to do or not, I’m going to break up with him.”
  • “I can’t believe she did that to me, I’m never speaking to her again.”
  • “I know I shouldn’t spend all my savings on this, but it will make me happy for a little while at least.”
  • “I don’t care what the facts say, I know he’s guilty, and I’m going to make sure everyone else knows it too.”
  • “I don’t care what the consequences are, I’m going to quit my job and follow my dream.”


Anxiety as an automatic negative thought is the tendency to anticipate potential negative outcomes or to worry excessively about potential threats or dangers. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

Anxiety can interfere with daily activities and relationships, and can prevent individuals from achieving their goals or enjoying life. It is important to recognize and challenge anxious thoughts in order to manage anxiety and maintain a healthy and balanced perspective. This can be done through a variety of techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, or relaxation techniques.

  • “What if someone notices I am nervous?”
  • “I am going to screw this up.”
  • “People will laugh at me.”
  • “I am going to fail this class.”
  • “I may even have to drop out of school.”
  • “I am not a good public speaker.”

Negative Automatic Thoughts Worksheet

With these worksheets, you can work on your automatic thoughts on your own. That way, you can be aware of your automatic thoughts and replace them with healthier thoughts.

Remember, your thoughts can change your feelings. Do not forget to write down your emotional changes at the end of this study.

negative automatic thoughts (ants): a few great examples and 6 useful worksheets for you 1

Negative Automatic Thoughts Review Form

PDF Negative Automatic Thoughts Review Form

Here are several worksheets for you to use. We added the required instructions as well so you can follow them easily.

  • A Simple Automatic Negative Thoughts Worksheet: PDF
  • Identifying ANTs: PDF
  • Challenging ANTs: PDF
  • Recording Your ANTs: PDF
  • Replacing ANTs: PDF

Negative Automatic Thoughts Examples:

  • I actually can’t do anything.
  • All men should see me pretty.
  • I must be very rich.
  • I must look perfect.
  • Everyone should talk about me.
  • I can’t go there.
  • You can’t trust any people.
  • All people are monsters.
  • All spiders are toxic and harmful.

Experts (therapists) try to change the negative thinking patterns listed above using CBT techniques. For this, they offer alternative perspectives to their clients.

How Do Automatic Negative Thoughts Occur?

Our negative experiences or our beliefs about events affect our thinking process, and when we experience the same kind of event, our ‘automatic thoughts’ emerge.

The point is that when we think negatively, we should try to change it. Step by step, we can get rid of the learned helplessness in our brain by transforming negative thoughts into positive ones.

7 CBT Techniques To Eliminate Negative Automatic Thoughts

Negative automatic thoughts lead us to depression and increase anxiety. Therefore, it is very important to get rid of these thoughts. It is possible to get rid of these thoughts by using CBT techniques. This has been scientifically proven. In most cases, negative automatic thoughts completely disappear.

7 CBT Techniques

Keep a diary:

Keeping a diary helps us identify our emotions because it provides us with an outlet to express the negative emotions we feel. This will allow you to get these feelings out of your head so that they stop disrupting your day-to-day life.

negative automatic thoughts (ants): a few great examples and 6 useful worksheets for you 2
with cbt techniques you can get rid of dark, negative automatic thoughts and be able to live in the moment!

Awareness exercises:

Consciousness enables individuals to monitor what is going on, to be aware of the nature and quality of events as they occur, and to perceive their meaning.

Anthony Stevens

Awareness exercises can help with negative automatic thoughts by increasing an individual’s ability to recognize and identify these thoughts. Negative automatic thoughts are often automatic and unconscious, so individuals may not be aware of them or may not recognize the impact that they have on their feelings and behavior. Awareness exercises can help to bring these thoughts to the forefront of an individual’s consciousness, allowing them to recognize and challenge them. This can be beneficial because it can help individuals to gain a more balanced and realistic perspective, and can reduce the negative effects of negative automatic thoughts.

Questioning the accuracy of thoughts:

Questioning the accuracy of thoughts can help with negative automatic thoughts by challenging the assumptions and beliefs that underlie these thoughts. Negative automatic thoughts often contain inaccurate or distorted information and may be based on unrealistic or unhelpful expectations. By questioning the accuracy of these thoughts, individuals can identify the flaws or biases in their thinking and can evaluate the evidence for and against their beliefs. This can be beneficial because it can help individuals to gain a more balanced and realistic perspective, and can reduce the negative effects of negative automatic thoughts.

Relaxation exercises:

Relaxation exercises are techniques that are used to reduce stress and tension, and to promote relaxation and well-being. These techniques can be helpful for managing negative automatic thoughts because they can reduce the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and stress, which can make it easier to challenge and change negative thinking patterns.

Some common relaxation techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation. These techniques can be practiced on their own, or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for managing negative automatic thoughts. It is important to find the relaxation techniques that work best for an individual and to practice them regularly in order to achieve maximum benefits.


Observation assignments are important in order to be aware of wrong thinking. The client can practice the gains in therapy and practice exercises. Assignments can also be written. It is applied very frequently in CBT. So the more successful the assignments are, the greater the success rate.

Self-study with books:

The books prepared in accordance with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are definitely a very effective way. There are a lot of books that can help. However, not all of these books are useful, so it is necessary to be very careful in selecting a book.

Computer-assisted cognitive behavior therapy:

Digital applications are becoming increasingly widespread in recent years. Computer games designed for young people and children are also effective. These programs include cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. With the development of artificial intelligence every year, the area of ​​influence of applications increases.

Challenging automatic negative thoughts:

The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to challenge automatic negative thoughts and find a more balanced way to view the world. In order to do this, you need to start gathering evidence for your positive beliefs by using an “ABC” chart or journaling process.

For example, if you think that no one likes you because people often ignore you in social situations, try writing down all the times someone was friendly towards you during those same interactions. This will help shift your perspective from being pessimistic about others’ intentions toward viewing them as caring individuals who may not have been mindful of how their actions might be interpreted. If CBT sounds like something worth trying out, but it feels too complicated at first glance, take comfort in knowing that we’re here with support.

Last Updated on June 12, 2023 by Lucas Berg


2 thoughts on “Negative Automatic Thoughts (ANTs): A Few Great Examples and 6 Useful Worksheets For You”

  1. Cold War Prepper

    I am very concerned that with all of the stress that is coming down on the world right now that people are becoming less and less social, kind, polite, and respectful and am very interested in how A.N.T.’s theory might be able to assist people in their journey to remain sane in a world gone crazy. Can we chat and see whether or not an introductory interview on my you tube channel might be of assistance to my viewers? Lee

    1. Hi Lee,

      There’s always hope when people are willing to talk about themselves. I know we are going through tumultuous times but I am sure that I will be OK.

      Keep hoping.

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