The therapeutic problem lies with developing conviction in the flexible and non-extreme attitudes REBT espouses. To this end Ellis told people to forcefully say to themselves the rational attitudes he taught. Following the Stoic tradition I tend to tell people to take a few minutes each day and write the rational attitudes on paper 3-5 times each day for a week or so. I think writing rational attitudes helps to internalize them resulting in some conviction in the new rational attitude.
With that said the absolute best way to develop conviction in a rational attitude is to bring your behavior in line with the attitude. I tell my patients “Conviction follows action, it does not precede it”. Unless and until you ACT in a way consistent with the rational attitude you will have achieved intellectual insight but not emotional insight. We in REBT do not want to turn you into a rational parrot that goes around merely saying to yourself and others “I want life conditions to be relatively easy and hassle-free but they do not have to be so for a doll like me” but then goes about whining and complaining how hard you have it. So the best way to achieve real and enduring therapeutic change and deep conviction is to push yourself to live the rational talk. This means forcing yourself to do what is unfamiliar and uncomfortable in situations where you would typically display self-defeating emotions and behavior. Here are some examples of the kinds of action I am suggesting:
- If you hold the attitude that you must not make mistakes you allow yourself to do things at your best level without procrastination knowing full well you may make a mistake.
- If you hold the attitude that others must treat you nicely you choose not to fume and rage when driving your car and someone cuts you off while driving in traffic.
- If you hold the attitude that life must be fair you actively seek evidence against this idea by looking for, interacting with, and helping children, adults and the elderly who have medical conditions which they did not bring on themselves but are the victim of through fate’s hand.
- If you hold the attitude you must not be rejected you actively ask someone out on a date who you are interested in getting to know better.
- If you hold the attitude you cannot tolerate short term comfort for longer term gain you actively deny yourself some food, drink, or a cigarette to deepen your conviction that you want these substances but do not need them and can tolerate the discomfort of doing without them for the greater good that will come to you in the middle and long run.
- If you hold the attitude you must live up to standards of performance or need the approval of others which lie at the core of shame you go and do something in public that you may do poorly and is not up to the level of your standards and for which you may be disapproved of by onlookers. (Ellis called these shame attacks but be sure NEVER to do anything illegal or which will cause harm to you or innocent bystanders. A simple example might be singing in public. You might save yourself some money and do a shame attack by not tipping 18% when the service is not worthy of such a tip.)