Summary Module 4: Therapy - Flexible Thinking

Flexible Thinking

This is a summary of the module Flexible Thinking for your reference.

The focus of this module is a skill called cognitive flexibility. It’s represented by one of the 3rd-floor rooms and is built upon your goals and your understanding and awareness of your emotions.


You’ve heard the expression “thinking outside the box” - i.e. you think in new or different ways. Thinking in new or different ways is what cognitive flexibility is all about. 

This skill can help you understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions, become more aware of your thinking, and find different ways to interpret situations.


The relationship between thoughts and emotions is bi-directional - your thoughts influence your emotional experiences and your emotional experiences influence your thoughts.

Here’s an example of how this might work.


Take a few minutes to think about a time when your thoughts created a negative mood. And, did your negative mood also create negative thoughts? Write about the experience.


Negative automatic thoughts occur quickly and automatically. Take a quick look at this image. 


What thoughts came up for you? What came to mind right away?


Consider your first thought. It came very quickly, right? Maybe automatically? And what made you “think it?” Maybe a certain memory or experience? Did you focus on just one thing?

Now, take a few moments and think of at least 3 other interpretations of the image. Is it more difficult to come up with other meanings?


Interpreting situations quickly and automatically is helpful in many situations, especially in a dangerous situation - e.g., you need to “think fast” if a speeding car is quickly approaching when you’re crossing the street. 

However, when it comes to negative emotion, focusing on just one thing can get you “stuck” in that negative emotion.


A pattern of negative automatic thoughts is called a thinking trap. We will discuss two common traps. 

You're more likely to respond in unhelpful ways with thinking traps. Identifying the type of trap isn’t that important. What matters? Noticing it.

If you’re aware of your thinking traps and question your first thoughts, you’re on the way to improving your cognitive flexibility.


Which of the following are thinking traps for you?

Jumping to conclusions

Thinking the worst



Instead of thinking that your automatic thoughts are true, think of them as possible interpretations. Your goal: To explore other meanings or interpretations.

How can you get your negative thinking unstuck and improve your cognitive flexibility?

Refer to the Practicing Cognitive Flexibility form in your UP Therapy Workbook. You’ll answer questions to help you move past your negative automatic thoughts and consider other possibilities.


It also is common for people to have negative automatic thoughts about the experience of emotions. For example, “I shouldn’t feel anxious,” or “I just can’t tolerate feeling down.” 

Practice other ways to think about your experiences with emotions. Remember what you learned in the previous module about mindful emotional awareness - i.e. be aware of your emotions without judgment. 


How might you rethink your experience with emotions? If you're thinking, “I shouldn’t feel anxious or sad,” instead you might think [fill in the blank]. 


When “rethinking” negative automatic thoughts, you may have trouble coming up with different interpretations or conclusions that seem believable.

It may be related to an unhelpful core automatic thought - i.e. more general, deep-seated thoughts about yourself or your world. 



You can explore your core automatic thoughts using the Downward Arrow exercise in your UP Therapy Workbook.

Here, you’ll get to the source of your core automatic thoughts that may lie underneath your negative automatic thoughts. 


You can replace negative core automatic thoughts with neutral, balanced ones. Instead of “I’m a failure. I’ll never get ahead.” You might think, “Sometimes I fail, but I also succeed.” 

Talk with your coach about this assignment. They can guide you through it. 


Time for a knowledge check. Which of the following are true?

1. Cognitive flexibility means you’re able to adapt or change your thinking.

2. How you feel influences how you think.

3. One goal of cognitive flexibility is to get rid of negative automatic thoughts.

4. “Jumping to conclusions” and “thinking the worst” are two thinking traps.



  1. True. Cognitive flexibility, important in dealing with intense emotions, does mean you’re able to change your thinking.

  2. True. Your feelings influence your thinking, and your thinking also affects your feelings.

  3. False. Getting rid of negative automatic thoughts is not part of cognitive flexibility. The idea is to adapt or change your thinking.

  4. True. “Jumping to conclusions” and “thinking the worst” are two thinking traps. Although they are both thinking traps, the type of trap isn’t as important as recognizing your negative automatic thoughts.


Make time for homework!

Complete the Practicing Cognitive Flexibility and the Downward Arrow exercises in your UP Therapy Workbook.