“Listen closely to yourself and dispute the thoughts that don’t serve you—even if those thoughts are true…. For example, you might think, ‘Writing a novel is hard. Selling a novel is hard.’ Yes, both thoughts are true, but they don’t serve you. The only thought that serves you is, I’m off to write a novel!” (emphasis mine)
We are used to practicing REBT to help us dispute and change our irrational belief systems. The paragraph above jumped out at me because I think we forget sometimes that the beliefs that keep us chained to our addictive behaviors, can actually be true, as in the example above. Of the three main tests that we apply to our beliefs, only one of them has to do with the belief being true or false. To review the tests, they are:
If the belief fails any one of these tests, we should dispute it. In the example above, the writer should dispute the beliefs because they conflict with the goal of finishing a novel. I think that oftentimes we concentrate upon the first test, the “truth” test, and forget that even “true” beliefs can fail to pass one or both of the last two tests. Remember that the goal of the REBT process is to help us deal with life’s problems without resorting to our self-defeating addictive behaviors, and sometimes these behaviors are driven by our belief that the problems we’re facing are insurmountable, when the truth is they are not. Yes, it is hard to write a novel, and it’s also hard to change our behaviors, but that’s no reason to stop trying and give up.
A few years ago, when I decided to quit smoking following a major heart attack, one of the techniques that made it easier was seeing myself as a nonsmoker. I visualized a person with fresh breath, no little holes in his shirt, no nicotine stains on his fingers, and no pack of smokes in his pocket. A person who could answer the phone, read the paper in the morning, have a cup of coffee, deal with stress, and socialize, all without having a cigarette constantly burning nearby. Not just any person either, it had to be myself in a new role.
To some extent, I used the same technique years before when I quit drinking, but not as consciously as I did with smoking. With drinking, I had to first convince myself that there even was a life without alcohol before I could see myself in it. Once I decided there was, I could imagine myself in all sorts of situations, even attending my daughter’s wedding, without a drink.Continue reading
Most people understand that the best way to keep your vehicle headed straight on the highway is to focus your eyes on the furthest point you can see, and let your peripheral vision take care of what’s happening close to you. I was taught that simple trick in High School Driver’s Ed, and had it reinforced in every driving school I have ever attended. The technique has the added benefit of allowing you to see trouble (like brake lights coming on) when it’s still far enough away for you to react in plenty of time. You can easily spot the drivers who aren’t doing this, their cars or trucks are weaving back and forth within, or slightly outside of their lanes, as they fix their gaze right over their hood and try to adjust to a position that is constantly changing.
What has this technique to do with the importance of setting goals, and changing our belief systems? Quite a lot, actually, and that’s the subject of this post. In the early stages of quitting addictions, our gaze is pretty much fixed right over the hood, in the sense that any goals we set are liable to be extremely short-term, and not very complicated. Our early goals might simply be abstaining for a day, a few days, a week, or a month. In the beginning, it’s difficult for us to focus much farther ahead than this, because we’re still discovering that there is a life without our addiction.
As we progress in our new-found freedom, we find it not only possible to set some longer-term goals, we find that it is necessary in order to sustain a healthy recovery. Our chances of success are much greater if we are moving towards something rather than running away. We also find that keeping our long-term goals in mind helps us make sense of the clutter in our daily lives, and provides part of the criteria for determining if our beliefs are irrational or not.Continue reading
In this excerpt, from Chapter 10 of Powerless No Longer, I am going to describe some of the more common self-defeating beliefs, along with the ways we can dispute them.
You may notice two things as you are going through the list. These irrational beliefs are not new, they are variations on the same theme as others we have explored, and most of them effect our self-esteem. The messages we send to ourselves are far worse than any we receive from the outside world. These are in no particular order.
“I should always feel happy, confident, and in control of my emotions, I should never feel angry, anxious, inadequate, jealous, or vulnerable.”
First, notice the absolutes, “should always,” and “should never.” Anytime we start thinking in absolutes we are asking for trouble. Emotional upsets are difficult enough to resolve without beating ourselves over being in that position in the first place. Whatever they are, our feelings are indeed valid, and a result of our current belief system, healthy or not. Being upset for being upset makes no logical sense, and keeps us from looking at the underlying belief that caused the upset.Continue reading