Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery is stressful, and the patient's coping affects recovery and outcome. The aim of the study was to identify patients' thoughts and concerns, and explore the relevance of approach/avoidant coping and Regulatory Focus Theory (RFT). Nine patients were interviewed, using an interpretative phenomenological approach. The patients made use of various avoidant (e.g. neglecting symptoms, delaying help-seeking, avoiding thoughts) and approach strategies (e.g. persistent search for the diagnosis, mental preparation for surgery). RFT versus approach/avoidant coping is discussed. RFT may contribute to our understanding of motivational cognitions in patients' coping with illness and treatment.