Cognitive Restructuring

Your thoughts determine your actions

What is cognitive restructuring?

Cognitive restructuring is a process of identifying irrational or unhelpful thoughts that influence emotions and behaviour. These irrational thoughts are often referred to as ‘cognitive distortions’.

Types of cognitive distortions

Selective abstraction

Making conclusions based on one of many aspects of a situation


Holding yourself responsible for events that are not under your control

Arbitrary Interference

Making conclusions based on little or no evidence


Giving little weight to the significance of a positive thought, feeling or experience


Blowing a situation or event out of proportion


Making conclusions of one experience and applying it to many or all experiences

Cognitive distortions are a prevalent feature of clinical mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders e.g. anorexia and bulimia. They can also significantly influence performance. For example, if you have negative thoughts about your capabilities, you are more likely to feel negative emotions e.g. defeated, demotivated, a lack of confidence. As a result you are likely to perform, sub optimally or in a way that is detrimental to performance.

Conversely, if you maintain positive and rational thoughts about your capabilities, you are more likely to feel positive emotions that encourage elite performance e.g. confidence and motivation. Subsequently, you are more likely to behave or perform in a way which reflects those thoughts and feelings e.g. trying to execute a new skill or going beyond what is required of you.

What is the theory behind cognitive restructuring?

Research in this area is extensive and originates from rational emotive behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.

Aaron Beck (1976) offered the cognitive triad (above) which demonstrates the cycle of the thoughts, emotions and behaviour. As the cycle repeats, ironically, people reinforce their own beliefs about themselves and their abilities. To combat this, it would make sense to begin to reconstruct your beliefs by understanding your thought patterns that lead to certain types of performances.

Activating event



Albert Ellis, offered the ABC model as a template for cognitive restructuring. It encourages you to firstly, identify the event or experience which triggered thoughts or beliefs about yourself. Second, to identify what those beliefs were and lastly, the result of those beliefs. Ellis, suggested that it is not the event itself which, causes maladaptive emotional and behavioural responses but the way you interpret the event. Therefore, if you are able to reframe the situation and train your mind to think rationally and constructively, you are better equipped to perform at a high level.

References, Reading and Resources

Beck, A. T. (1963). Thinking and depression: I. Idiosyncratic content and cognitive distortions. Archives of general psychiatry9(4), 324-333.

Ellis, A. (1995). Changing rational-emotive therapy (RET) to rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy.

Hoffman, S. L., & Hanrahan, S. J. (2012). Mental skills for musicians: Managing music performance anxiety and enhancing performance. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology1(1), 17.

Meyers, A. W., Whelan, J. P., & Murphy, S. M. (1996). Cognitive behavioral strategies in athletic performance enhancement. Progress in behavior modification30, 137-164.