In REBT I show patients that before they take steps to influence others or control uncontrollable life conditions they would be well advised to spend more attention controlling the one thing they really can control which is their own attitudes, beliefs, and emotions. Our beliefs are essentially within our control but all too often people overlook this simple fact. From our controllable beliefs flow our largely controllable emotional responses and our behaviors.
REBT teaches the powerful and liberating idea that although life and other people may give us an opportunity to get upset; we always have a choice in how to think about this opportunity. We can choose to think in a way that leads to productive feelings and behaviors or do what comes naturally and think in a way that leads to unproductive feelings and behaviors.
REBT emphasizes the principle of emotional responsibility. If we assume the responsibility for our emotions and subsequent behaviors we can then address the external problems with greater skill, creativity, and persistence. If we are emotionally upset and simultaneously attempt to address external problems we are likely to fail in our execution. Emotional upset is likely to lead us to say and do things we later regret. If the solution we attempt to implement is slow to take hold we are likely to continue to experience emotional upset until the solution changes the external situation. It is better to first manager our emotional upset by giving up beliefs which underpin it and then attempt to solve our problems. Here are some beliefs which will interfere with good problem-solving:
1. You must treat me as I desire and deserve. When you don’t I cannot tolerate this.
2. The world must be as I desire it to be and when it is not I cannot stand this.
3. I must do things well and when I make mistakes I cannot stand that.
In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy we encourage you to replace the above rigid beliefs with more adaptive beliefs which will help you solve external problems. Here are some good examples of adaptive beliefs:
1. I want you to treat me as I desire and as I deserve but there is no natural law that dictates you must do so. When you do not treat me as I wish I can tolerate this although I do not like it. I will also try to influence you to treat me as I wish. You are never less worthwhile as a person even when you misbehave towards me.
2. I want the world to be as I desire it to be but there is no natural law that dictates the world must be as I wish it to be. When the world is not as I wish it to be I can tolerate this whether or not I can change what I do not like about the world. I can have some degree of happiness even when things are not totally as I want them to be.
3. I want to do things well and avoid costly mistakes but there is no natural law that dictates I must not make mistakes. When I do error I can stand the consequences of my mistakes even when these consequences are uncomfortable to bear. I am never less worthwhile as a person even when I acknowledge my mistakes.
If people adopted the above flexible beliefs when they encountered problems they would have healthy negative emotions which would fuel their efforts to productively change what they can change and gracefully tolerate what is slow to change or cannot be changed. Push yourself to first control what is directly under your control, your beliefs, emotions, and behaviors and then strive to interact with the world productively to change what you can change.