You have learned in session that almost all of us learned early in life to believe things that are not true. We can call these thoughts “irrational beliefs.” They are irrational for a number of reasons, including:
- There is no evidence to support them;
- They assume we can predict the future;
- They assume that either we or the world can be perfect; and
- They are rigid and absolutist, and ignore the way the world really is.
When we wake up we have a set of beliefs about life. In session you have been given a list of common irrational thoughts. When things happen, right away we judge things based on these beliefs. For that reason Dr. Aaron T. Beck called them “automatic thoughts.” Because they are quick and automatic, it is very difficult to change them “on the spur of the moment” when an event occurs. Our best strategy is to change them ahead of time, by convincing ourselves of the truth of some rational, coping thoughts.
Following are 22 rational, coping thoughts that can defeat irrational, automatic thoughts. First, review this list twice/day for two days. Really look closely at these ideas. After two days, please make a selection of the rational, coping ideas that are most powerful for you. Choose the ideas that really help you to see how false irrational thoughts are, and that help you see the world in a different light. Choose between FIVE and EIGHT of the coping thoughts that help you the most. In session we will create a memory device that will help you bring these ideas quickly to mind. In this way we will turn your favorite coping thoughts into a powerful working philosophy, rather than just leave them as “something you once read.”
- There are many things in life that are advantageous and preferable. Assuming that life itself is necessary, necessities are breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping and eliminating. Everything else, no matter how preferable, is not necessary.
- I have often had reactions that basically meant, “This should not be this way.” The truth: if the world required things to be different, they would be different. There is no reason things should or must be different from the way they are.
- It is preferable for me to be liked and admired. But not everyone will like, admire or respect me, and that is normal and not a catastrophe.
- Competence is an advantage worth striving for. But it is clearly not a requirement of nature. I can handle not being competent at some things I attempt.
- When I say there are certain ways things should, must, or ought to be, I am trying to give orders to a world that does not obey me.
- It would be a happier world if people and events turned out better. And when things do not turn out well I will probably feel frustrated and disappointed. But there is no requirement that the world be perfect. And there is certainly no requirement that I be miserable about being in an imperfect world.
- Jumping to conclusions about the future is irrational. For instance, if I apply for a job and my application is rejected, it is not proof that I will never get a job in the future.
- We can only control our effort; we can seldom control outcomes. Blaming myself for something over which I do not have complete control is self-defeating and irrational.
- I have often responded to frustration by telling myself, “I can’t stand it!” The truth is I “stood it” every single time. Remembering this will help me see frustrating events as inconvenient, maybe even painful, but not awful and horrible.
- There will be times when I will do something stupidly. This does not mean I am and must forever be stupid. It just means I am imperfect, I did poorly this time, and I can live with this.
- Many persons’ lives improve. My past miseries do not guarantee more of the same. With some effort and self-discipline, I may be able to improve things.
- Life is a series of events that are not always fair. Some events will bring pleasure and some will be inconvenient and painful. I can accept this.
- Planning to avoid a problem is helpful. But, once a problem exists, resenting it and not facing it is a dangerous strategy.
- Facing a problem does not mean I have to suffer. I can even take pride in my strength in finding a solution. This could increase my self-esteem.
- I still respect and care about someone who is not living effectively or successfully. It is unfair and irrational for me to not give myself the same break.
- Being happy usually requires effort and self-discipline. Even though I cannot always be successful, the very act of trying will make me happier.
- I feel the way I think. If I avoid irrational thoughts, at worst I’ll experience inconvenience, regret and annoyance – not anxiety, depression and rage.
- If something seems dangerous or threatening, I’m better off if I take reasonable precautions. After that, there is no use worrying about it.
- When people behave unfairly, it can cause unhappiness and frustration. But this is not proof that I will always have to put up with unfair behavior, and I can handle it without thinking it is a catastrophe.
- I cannot judge the worth of any human being. Therefore my worth as a human being cannot be judged. So, when I attempt something, certain things may be at stake, but my worth as a human being is not one of them.
- My happiness in life does not depend entirely on any one moment, endeavor or relationship.
- There is no particular way anything must be.
Michael R. Slavit, Psychologist, Ph.D., ABPP, is Board Certified in Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. This column is not intended to be a substitute for help from a qualified professional.