Automatic Thinking Examples: Understanding the Subconscious Mind

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Automatic Thinking Examples: Understanding the Subconscious Mind

Have you ever wondered why certain thoughts and actions seem to happen automatically, without any conscious effort? These automatic thoughts, also known as automatic thinking, are an intriguing aspect of our subconscious mind. They play a significant role in shaping our behaviors, responses, and decision-making processes. In this article, we will delve into the concept of automatic thinking, explore its implications, and provide real-world examples to illustrate its influence on our daily lives.

What is Automatic Thinking?

Automatic thinking, as coined by psychologist and cognitive therapist Aaron T. Beck, refers to the cognitive processes that occur without conscious awareness or deliberate intention. It is a stream of thoughts that effortlessly flow through our minds, often based on ingrained beliefs, past experiences, or cultural conditioning. These thoughts can be either positive or negative, and they can significantly impact our perception of reality and subsequent actions.

Automatic thinking is closely intertwined with cognitive biases, which are mental shortcuts or patterns of thinking that our brains develop to navigate the complexities of the world. While cognitive biases can often lead to errors in judgment, automatic thinking helps us process information rapidly and make quick decisions. However, it’s essential to recognize that automatic thinking isn’t always accurate or rational; it’s merely a result of our brain’s attempt to simplify our experiences.

The Influence of Automatic Thinking

Automatic thinking affects several areas of our lives, including:

1. Social Interactions:

The way we perceive and respond to others is heavily influenced by automatic thinking. For example, if we have a negative automatic thought that says, “People always take advantage of me,” we might approach new relationships with mistrust. This can result in missed opportunities for deeper connections and personal growth.

2. Emotional Well-being:

Automatic thinking plays a critical role in shaping our emotional state. If we constantly harbor negative automatic thoughts such as “I am a failure” or “Nothing ever goes right for me,” we may experience chronic stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Recognizing and challenging these automatic thoughts is vital for cultivating a more positive mindset.

3. Decision-making:

Automatic thinking heavily influences our decision-making processes. Say you see a job posting, and your automatic thought is, “I’m not qualified for this.” This immediate, subconscious thought may deter you from applying, even if you possess the necessary skills. Becoming aware of automatic thoughts and evaluating their accuracy is crucial for making informed decisions.

4. Problem-solving:

When faced with challenges, automatic thinking can either expand or limit our problem-solving skills. If our automatic thought is, “I’ll never figure this out,” we may feel defeated and avoid trying different approaches. Alternatively, if we have an automatic thought that says, “I am resourceful and can find a solution,” we are more likely to persist and find effective solutions.

Examples of Automatic Thinking

Now let’s explore some concrete examples to better understand automatic thinking:

Confirmation Bias:

Confirmation bias is a common cognitive bias that leads us to seek out or interpret information in a way that confirms our existing beliefs. Suppose you strongly believe that climate change is a hoax. In that case, you might automatically reject scientific studies and evidence supporting the reality of climate change while selectively accepting information that aligns with your preconceived notions.


Our automatic thoughts often lead to stereotypes and generalizations about certain groups or individuals. For example, if you automatically assume that older people are technologically inept, you might overlook the technical prowess of many older adults and miss out on valuable insights or collaborations.


Overgeneralization is a cognitive distortion where we draw broad conclusions based on limited evidence or a single negative experience. Consider an instance where you make a mistake at work, and your automatic thought is, “I am a failure.” This overgeneralization can lead you to believe that you’re incompetent, even if you’ve had many successful experiences in the past and possess the necessary skills and talents.


When we engage in catastrophizing, our automatic thoughts blow minor setbacks or inconveniences out of proportion. For instance, if you spill some coffee on your shirt before an important meeting, you might have an automatic thought that says, “This is a disaster! Everyone will think I’m incompetent!” This exaggerated response can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Challenging and Changing Automatic Thinking

Awareness is the first step towards challenging and changing our automatic thoughts. By actively observing our automatic thinking patterns, we can start questioning their validity and exploring alternative perspectives. Here are a few strategies to help:

1. Self-reflection:

Regularly engage in self-reflection to identify recurrent automatic thoughts and assess their impact on your emotions and behaviors. Question the accuracy and usefulness of these thoughts to challenge their influence over you.

2. Cognitive Restructuring:

Cognitive restructuring is the process of replacing automatic negative thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones. Evaluate the evidence supporting your automatic thoughts and generate counterarguments or alternative explanations.

3. Mindfulness and Meditation:

Practicing mindfulness and meditation can enhance your awareness of automatic thoughts. By observing them without judgment, you can create distance and reduce their immediate effect on your emotions and actions.

4. Seeking Different Perspectives:

Discuss your automatic thoughts and biases with others to gain alternative viewpoints. This can help challenge ingrained assumptions and broaden your understanding of a particular situation or topic.


Automatic thinking forms an integral part of our cognitive processes, shaping our perceptions, emotions, decisions, and interactions. By unraveling the power of automatic thinking and recognizing its influence, we can actively challenge and reshape our beliefs, leading to more profound personal growth, enhanced well-being, and improved decision-making. Embrace the opportunity to become more aware of your automatic thoughts and take the first step towards positive change today.

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Automatic Thinking Examples: Understanding the Subconscious Mind