Karen Kerschmann, LCSW

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Clinical Supervision


Kerschmann & Associates

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and  Clinical Supervision

Kerschmann & Associates

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and  Clinical Supervision

Transforming Your Unhelpful Core Beliefs with CBT

What are Core Beliefs and Why are they so Important to Our Mental Health? 


Core beliefs are deeply ingrained convictions that individuals hold about themselves, others, and the world around them. These arefundamental to one’s sense of self and play a significant role in shaping thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Core beliefs are often formed early in life through various experiences, interactions, and socialization.

This text shows untangling of a core belief

These thoughts tend to be stable over time unless they are consciously challenged and modified. Positive core beliefs contribute to a healthy self-esteem and resilient mindset, while negative core beliefs can lead to self-doubt, low self-worth, and psychological distress.

Examples of core beliefs include:

– I am unlovable and unworthy of affection

– I am worthy of love and respect

– I am incompetent and destined to fail

– I am capable enough

– I am fundamentally flawed and defective

– I am deserving of success and happiness

– Others will always reject or betray me

– Others are generally trustworthy and kind

It’s easy to see how core beliefs serve as the lens through which individuals interpret their experiences and perceive themselves and the world at a subconscious level. These are the ‘roots’ of our psychological tree, and it takes conscious and consistent efforts to change.

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), these core beliefs are a central focus. Cognitive behavioral therapists work with clients to identify and challenge negative core beliefs, replacing them with more adaptive and constructive beliefs. This process, known as cognitive restructuring, helps individuals develop a healthier self-concept and achieve greater emotional well-being.

One exercise I use in my CBT practice is a positive data log:

Using CBT’s Positive Data Log

A Positive Data Log is easy to create. Here is a template for your reference.

Step 1: Identify the Unhelpful Core Belief

In this case, we will use ‘I’m not good enough’

Step 2: Develop a more useful alternative belief

Let’s use ‘I’m good enough’

It’s important to note that the goal is to not convince yourself of the opposite of your core belief, but more of a balanced perception of yourself. ‘I’m good enough’ doesn’t allude to ‘I’m perfect’.

Step 3: List evidence from your recent experiences that contradict or challenge the core belief. 

These would be instances where you succeeded, received positive feedback, or felt valued. The more specific the evidence, the more helpful it will be. Additionally, it’s very important to recognize the small pieces of evidence we may be ignoring.

Some evidence may look like this:

– My friend Mark called me to say ‘hi’

– I completed my grocery shopping on my own

– I didn’t get fired today

– Barbara laughed when I made a joke

– A stranger made small talk with me

– My dog was excited to see me when I got home

Last words on Positive Data Logs

Be Patient

Adding to this this positive data log every day can help reinforce useful self-beliefs and challenge negative thinking patterns. This is a long-term practice; we spend our whole lives living through a certain lens, so it takes time to shift. Patience is key here! Many people find that a therapist or other support is vital to stay accountable and also to review and process the evidence collected.

Expect Your Brain to Push Back

It’s natural to find yourself hearing ‘yes but’ after writing down evidence that contradicts our core beliefs. If you find you are having trouble accepting the new evidence, be gentle and remind yourself that you will have time to focus on the opposing data, but for now, you are just collecting some positive information.

Positive data logs are an effective, CBT based method of challenging the unhelpful ways we view ourselves and our world. Used consistently, you can find yourself shifting into a more balanced and rewarding mindset.