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Reframing Negative Thoughts Into Helpful Questions

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Yesterday, I wrote about cultivating curiosity (instead of berating or criticizing ourselves). Today, I’m exploring curiosity, again, because it’s such a powerful tool in building a more positive body image and taking compassionate care of ourselves.

All of us experience negative thoughts, particularly about ourselves. And some of us experience them on repeat. While we might not be able to stop our brains from spitting out negative thoughts, we can reframe them — instead of interpreting these thoughts as truths.

We can turn these unhelpful thoughts into helpful questions. Questions that add to our well-being. Questions that add to our emotional, physical and mental health. Questions that help us learn valuable information about ourselves, which we can then use to create meaningful, fulfilling days.

Here’s a list of sample negative thoughts and how we might translate them into helpful questions:

  • Instead of “I’m so weak for not being able to do that workout,” ask yourself: “Do I need to get more sleep or eat more? Do I even like this exercise routine in the first place? Is there something else I can do that would be more enjoyable? And if I am enjoying it, how can I work up to challenging myself in this way?”
  • Instead of “I’m such a loser for not being able to keep up with everything on my list,” ask yourself: “Am I trying to do too much? Am I saying yes to too many commitments? Do some tasks require more time, effort and energy than I’m estimating? Am I including too many tasks on my daily to-do list?”
  • Instead of “I’ve been lazy all day!” ask yourself: “Am I just exhausted? Do I need to take a day off? What would help relax and rejuvenate me? How can I incorporate small breaks into every day?”
  • Instead of “Why am I getting so anxious about something so stupid (or small),” ask yourself: “What about this is making me anxious? Have I felt this way before? What kind of support would be helpful here? How can I reduce my anxiety? How can I accept how I feel?”
  • Instead of “I’m disgusting. I’ve been eating everything in sight,” ask: “Am I hungry? Am I eating enough? Am I upset? What am I really feeling? Am I expecting food to fulfill all my needs? What is my need right now (e.g., connection, calm)? How can I provide for this need? Are there certain emotions or situations I’m not confronting that might be stressing me out?”
  • Instead of “I’m such a failure! Such a stupid failure…” ask: “What can I learn from this? What didn’t work? What did work? What resources can I consult? What support can I enlist? What does being a failure really even mean?” (Because surely all successful people were failures once and many of them over and over.)

Your negative thoughts might resemble the above. They might not. The key is to pay attention to the thoughts running through your mind. When negative thoughts arise, reframe them. Get curious. Because negative thoughts, if left alone, don’t help us feel better. They don’t help us solve problems. They don’t help us grow. But getting curious and asking questions can.

What stubborn negative thought or thoughts can you reframe? What helpful questions can you ask yourself?

Reframing Negative Thoughts Into Helpful Questions

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Reframing Negative Thoughts Into Helpful Questions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 May 2015
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