Ellis was able to take a great deal of ancient and modern philosophy and glean the most critical aspects to teach useful ideas to others. REBT is that distillation, and it teaches you how to improve your thinking by thinking about it critically. REBT shows you how to think independently and to think scientifically about your life. Ellis would often urge people to look for the “Must” when they observed themselves experiencing emotional disturbance. After you identify a “must,” that is an absolute attitude phrased with the words must, have to, need to or absolutely should, the next step towards undisturbing yourself is to question that “Must.” Think scientifically about it. If you think “I must do well,” “I have to do well,” or “I absolutely should do well always” look for the evidence that falsifies this invented idea of yours. Have you always performed perfectly well? It is obvious that humans, all of us, do not always perform perfectly well. What does that prove? It proves you do not have to do perfectly well. It proves that it is false to the facts. Do you want to do well? Yes, of course, you do want to do well, perhaps want to do very well. Is this a true statement? Yes, it is and keep your wishes and wants. It is quite different than the attitude “I must do perfectly well.” Think about your thinking and change your rigid “musts” into flexible wishes and wants which are consistent with reality, scientifically verifiable and most importantly self-helping as you pursue your goals and values! You can learn, to think more precisely and speak to yourself more precisely and thereby drive yourself sane.
Below are examples of attitudes that are true to the facts and which you can use to drive yourself sane:
1. I wish that other people, particularly those I have cared for and treated well, would treat me kindly and justly, but they do not have to do so in an absolute sense. The universe permits humans to mistreat each other. When people harm me, I will condemn what they do but never denounce them as rotten people who deserve to suffer. Their despicable behavior is evidence they are fallible humans, just like me! I will try to influence them to treat me better in the future, and if I cannot succeed in so doing, I can choose not to have a relationship with them. I will also strive to protect myself from their mistreatment. I would be well advised not to cut them out of my life too quickly as there are no perfect humans who will always treat me precisely as I wish and want.
2. I want the conditions under which I live to be easy, never frustrating, secure, predictable, and enjoyable but the circumstances of my life do not have to be so. When the conditions of my life are rough, that is bad, but it does not prove the world’s an awful place, that I can’t stand those conditions, and that I cannot have any happiness despite the presence of adversity in my life! I can choose to have some degree of joy despite the presence of misfortune.