How to Dispel Irrational Thoughts In 5 Steps

Irrational thoughts are thoughts that hold no truth and add no value to yourself.  They are debilitating and can ruin self-esteem.  Irrational thoughts can creep into your head without you realizing it and make you feel bad about yourself.

What are some examples?

“You should be working harder.  You’re lazy.”

“If you would have done that better this wouldn’t have happened to you”

“You got a C?  Seriously?  You’re a failure.”

Albert Ellis’s ABCDE Model of Dispelling Rational Thoughts

Activating event

Every irrational thought stems from something.  A perfectionistic irrational thought can stem from having parents who put a lot of pressure on you, or a boss that puts pressure on you.  Being in that environment can cause activating events that trigger irrational thoughts.  Maybe you didn’t get a promotion you wanted.  That would be an activating event and because you have pressure on yourself, thoughts about that promotion start to creep in.


You didn’t get the promotion.  What are your beliefs behind not getting the promotion?  What do you rationally think about it and what are some random thoughts that come to your head about that event?  Some irrational thoughts that could come in are:

  • “I didn’t get the promotion, I am a failure.”
  • “I didn’t get the promotion, my boss doesn’t like me.”
  • “You are such an idiot, if you would have turned in that report on time last quarter you would have been promoted”.
  • “You shouldn’t even work hard now because you have already failed.”
  • “There is no way I shouldn’t have gotten that promotion. My boss is out to get me.”

If these are your beliefs and if you can’t see a situation for what it really is, you will have consequences.


If you continue to think the way that you think, consequences will occur.  If you don’t dispel irrational thoughts you will be taken over.  Obviously this doesn’t happen very often, but in extreme cases, irrational thoughts can convince people they are failures and can even lead to suicidal thoughts.  People with the most severe cases of depression have to treat irrational thoughts or it can lead to suicide.  So, for the example above, if you didn’t get the promotion and continue to think the above thoughts, what could be some consequences?  You could start to work less and less.  You could develop harsh feelings that shouldn’t exist towards your boss.  You could start to feel like a failure.  You could start to have less confidence in your work environment and you could start to worry more.  If you don’t dispel these thoughts you will create a self-fulfilling prophecy that drags you down.


Dispute the irrational thoughts.  Once you recognize that you have an irrational thought you have to challenge the thought.  Recognize that you don’t have to feel the way that you do about the circumstance and don’t beat yourself up about the activating event.


Exchange the irrational thoughts with rational thoughts.  If you didn’t get the promotion, come up with some rational thoughts as to why that might be.  Here are some examples:

  • “I didn’t get the promotion, maybe someone else actually deserved or needed it more than I do”.
  • “I didn’t get the promotion, I’m disappointed that it didn’t happen but I know that I can get the next one if I don’t get upset about this and begin to work even harder.”
  • “I didn’t get the promotion, maybe my boss thinks I am doing the best work in my current position and he wants me to keep plugging away. Maybe he’s going to raise my salary.”
  • “I didn’t get the promotion but that doesn’t mean I am a failure. There are plenty of reasons why I couldn’t have gotten it.”

When you exchange the irrational beliefs with rational beliefs you will feel a lot better about yourself.

About the Author

Tyler Dahl is a freelance writer who dedicates his time to finding solutions for people who feel they can’t go anymore.  He specializes in writing about self-motivation and chronic pain.  If you would like to contact him you can do so on his LinkedIn.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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