Thought Replacement Exercise

This Thought Replacement Exercise (TRE) will help you eliminate beliefs that will get in the way when you start thinking about making positive changes in your life, whether it’s building a new business or being happier.

Important things to have:

  • You’ll need a pen and notebook.
  • Or your favourite note-taking app (e.g. Evernote)

You’ll start this process manually at first. But eventually, you can do this exercise mentally when you feel any fear or anxiety while working through this series and building your course.

Whenever you have a negative thought about yourself or anything you’re trying to improve, you’re going to break out your notebook and write some things down.

Just follow this simple process step-by-step:

1. The trigger.

Write down what happened to provoke the negative feelings in your mind. Even if your negativity has been weighing you down for a long time, you can usually pinpoint a recent event that stirred all the gunk up in your head. Don’t go all the way back. Find the recent trigger.

Example: I told my dad my business idea. He shrugged it off and started telling me how lucky I am to have the job that I do.

2. Physical side-effects.

Tune in on what you feel in your body. Anxiety and stress affect you physically in many forms. It could be a tightness in your chest, headache, burning feeling on your face, or even feeling sick to your stomach. Whatever it may be, write it down.

Example: I felt a little light headed and sick to my stomach.

3. The thoughts you are speaking to yourself.

Write down the specific negative thought you are having.

We all speak to ourselves (self-talk), and here is the place to record that dialogue and recognise it. Stuffing it away isn’t the best strategy. It will just build up and explode, or you will implode. You have to acknowledge your thoughts so you can replace the negative thought with a positive one.

Example: Maybe he’s right. It’s a bad idea and I should stick with my day job because I’ll only fail.

4. Where these negative thoughts originated from.

Here’s the part where you go back. Try and identify the point in time you first wrote this negative thought down in your inner “rule book.”

Example: My oldest brother tried to start a video rental store, and dumped tons of money into it. He quit his job, only to have the business tank. My dad told him from the start it was a bad idea, and he was right. He had a business loan he couldn’t pay and defaulted on his mortgage. My dad still brings it up as a joke at family gatherings.

5. Do I have any evidence to support the negativity?

Briefly, jot down any solid proof you have in favour or against this thought. Kinda like a pros and cons list. Is this thought really valid? And if it was in the past, does it really apply to you now?


In favour:

My brother did have a rough time because of his failed business. It took him years to bounce back.
I’ve tried a few things online here and there, but never really accomplished much because of my fears.
I do have a decent job. Benefits, and stability.


Things have changed a lot since my brother tried to start his business. I don’t need to take out a hefty loan to get started.
When I did pursue an online income before I did make a little money and a lot of people make a living online, but my dad’s negative comments squashed my motivation so I gave them all up.
I may have a good job, but I’d be selling myself short by not pursuing this. I don’t want to live to clock in and out on someone else’s terms. I think I have something more to offer the world.

6. How will this thought help or hurt me long term?

Will beating yourself up help you in the long run? Has that ever actually worked out for you? What purpose does this thought serve: motivation to change, or maybe just the temporary satisfaction of a personal pity party. What will this thought do for you that a positive replacement won’t? Write it down.

Example: This thought has only held me back all my life. And that’s not going to change if I keep hanging it over my head. Things have got to change if I’m going to reach my goals.

7. What is a positive replacement for this thought that gets me closer to my business goals?

Here’s the best part! Swap out the negative thought for a positive one. I’m not talking sunshine and rainbow unicorn poop here. The most powerful positive thoughts are based in reality; something attainable.

Example: I may not know if I’ll be the success I want, but I’m going to give it my all. I know I can make it work and prove my dad wrong. I owe it to myself to give it my all.

8. How can I put this thought into action to grow my business (or happiness)?

Make a list of how you can actually take the new, positive thought and put it into action.

  • Write down your victories so far, big or small for a pick me up.
  • Do something that will get you closer to your goals in your business.
  • Take a break if you are burned out. (Yes, workaholic, I’m talking you.) A quick nap, walk, better nutrition or just a cup of coffee might refresh your mind and increase your productivity.


  • I’m going to spend at least 30 minutes today researching and taking notes on how to run a business. And study some successful entrepreneurs online who are where I want to be in my business (or life). 
  • I’m going to write down my goals and good business plan.
  • I need to set boundaries when it comes to my dad and my business. Find other subjects to talk about with him. Avoid business talk.
  • I need to find positive people in my life to talk about my business and encourage me along the way. I’m going to join a local BMI group or local Chambers of Commerce specifically for that. Or I might get a coach.

Throughout this whole series, keep your notebook close. Anytime you have a thought that is getting in the way of your business or happiness (or whatever) run through this exercise.

Do this until the habit becomes second nature.

As a side note: If you’ve never heard of “bullet journaling” before, it’s helpful to leave the first couple pages blank to create an index for all of your negative thoughts.

Write a page number on every page. When you finish filling out your thought replacement exercise thumb back to your index. List the page numbers and the negative thought so you can find it fast. That way when you have the same negative thought pop up, you can refer to it. Like so:


  • 15-16… Negative thought: “I don’t have enough experience to build a successful business (or marriage etc.).”
  • 16-17: Negative thought: “I’m so overwhelmed! There’s no way I can do all of this myself.”
  • 17-19: Negative thought: “Building a client-base is too hard, there is no way I’ll get a big enough client-base to have a successful business-launch!”

Your mental blocks and self-limiting rules will be the biggest obstacle you face when it comes to building a better quality of life.

How you think and how you talk about your life, marriage, relationship, business, or whatever, will have an enormous impact on your actions.

Remember: “we become what we think about most of the time.”

Make sure you fill your mind with the stuff that will make you the person you want and need to be, not what everyone else is telling you.

You got this. Just get on with it.

And if you need any help, please reach out to me here.

GH, Gideon Hanekom, Life Coach, High Performance, Trainer, Consultant, Personal Development, Writer, Thought Leader, Speaker, Pastor, M.Div, Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand, New Life, Better Life, Blog