REBT can be used in a different way which I sometimes call proactive use of REBT. Here the individual uses the philosophy, attitudes, and strategies of REBT to change self-defeating behaviors like a lack of discipline, procrastination, passivity, substance abuse, and fear of calculated risk taking. In other words one can use REBT to make changes in one’s life that will lead to self-actualization. This is done by taking an inventory of one’s life and seeing where one can improve and make changes. The individual is not responding to adversity but proactively attempting changes, many of which may prevent adversity from occurring or result in improving their life. Then the person sets specific behavioral goals that would show progress in a particular area of one’s life, makes a commitment to achieve these goals, and uses REBT to push themselves to take action on that commitment.
More often than not the concept that most helps one implement proactive REBT is the concept of discomfort tolerance. Albert Ellis, long before Marsha Linehan discussed distress tolerance and Steve Hayes discussed experiential avoidance, introduced the idea of discomfort disturbance discomfort anxiety. Ellis argued that humans come into the world programmed to remain comfortable and experience emotional disturbance when they are uncomfortable. Think of a baby crying when it becomes the least bit cold, hungry, frightened etc. We by our nature want to avoid discomfort or escape it the very moment it is felt. This is the human condition. Effective parenting teaches children to wait, persist, and tolerate discomfort in order to achieve longer term goals. Likewise I encourage my patients to not avoid their problems but to lean into them. Unfortunately, the human urge to remain comfortable and the strong urge to quickly escape discomfort cannot be stamped out of us and it will often be at the core of indulgent, self-defeating behaviors like a lack of discipline, procrastination, passivity, substance abuse, and fear of calculated risk taking.
If you are honest with yourself you may very easily identify areas of your life where you remain comfortable in the short term but sacrifice longer term goals due to this indulgence in comfort. In my clinical work I am always encouraging patients to go outside of their comfort zone. This means to adopt the attitude that there is no way around discomfort in order to achieve behavioral change and to achieve worthwhile goals. No one likes to be uncomfortable but some of us think about it in a way that allows us to move towards our goals in a proactive way. Some people learn to fight their low discomfort tolerance. REBT encourages you to fight your inclination to remain comfortable at the cost of longer term goal achievement and self-actualization. In REBT we actually teach you how to fight the good fight against low discomfort tolerance. Here are a number of healthy attitudes that will facilitate high tolerance for being uncomfortable in order to achieve your longer term goals:
For lack of discipline: I want to remain comfortable, it is difficult to force myself to do what is best in the long run but it is not unbearable. I can tolerate the discomfort involved in disciplined behavior and it is worth doing in order to achieve my longer term goals.
For procrastination: I want to put off doing this unpleasant work but I do not have to do so. I can choose to tolerate the discomfort of doing the unpleasant work now rather than later. It won’t kill me to do so and it has many advantages. It is not unbearable to force myself to act now rather than later, to do this unpleasant or complex task now rather than later. The task is worth doing and it is far better for me to be proactive in doing it rather than reactive to a deadline.
For passivity: Acting assertively may very well be unnatural, difficult, and uncomfortable for me but it is not impossible or unbearable. I can push myself to act assertively and I know it is well worth doing because there are times when I want to resist what others want. I have a perfect right to speak my mind and having the ability to tolerate the awkward moment when I assert myself is well worth learning to do.
For substance abuse: It is more comfortable to consume this substance without restraint but it is not unbearable in the long run. Using it in an unhealthy way will produce negative consequences for my well-being in the middle and long-term and so I will accept the “discomfort” of forgoing pleasure in the short-term and this deprivation is well worth doing.
Fear of Calculated Risk Taking: I want a guarantee that the calculated risk I am about to take will work out in the desired way but I do not need such a guarantee. We live in a world where there are no guarantees and action requires the tolerance of uncertainty and the possibility of failure. I can tolerate uncertainty and if I fail I will bring to bear REBT to help me accept the negative consequences of failure. I want to succeed in taking this step but I do not absolutely need to succeed.
In closing I want to remind you that there is great benefit from being proactive in your life. REBT can help you immensely to cope with adversity once it is your fate to experience but it is far better to be self-directed and attempt to use REBT to make changes that will prevent some adversity from occurring as well as to help you self-actualize as a person. What are you waiting for?