Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors
So where do I start with everything I need to get across to people? I’ve thought about this for a few years now, and still don’t have the best answer so I finally decided that I would just pick something and branch out from there.
People feel they way they think. It’s counterintuitive to what most everyone are told: that feelings just happen. It’s also the basic premise behind REBT – Rational emotive behavior therapy. Now this is a pretty big idea to just throw at you so I would also highly recommend doing some supplemental reading – A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper is the best place to start. I will give a link below. In this book they give a basic overview of what REBT is and give real world examples. I will not kid myself into thinking that I could do their work any favors with this video, but I will try and delve a bit into what it entails and some examples of how it helps.
So what do I mean by we feel the way we think? Well years of research by the likes of Aaron Beck, Paul Woods, Donald Meichenbaum, Richard Lazarus, Howard Barlow, Albert Ellis, and many many others has shown that our emotions are preceded by thoughts. These thoughts usually follow some activating event. Let’s say that your boss has just emailed you that he wants to meet you later today in his office. He hasn’t said why. The activating event here is that email. The thoughts you might have about the event could go as follows; I wonder why he wants to talk to me? “I know I’m late on that project”, “I wonder if he’s upset?”, “Maybe I’m about to get fired?”, Those thoughts would then create feelings of anxiety.
Let’s give another example. You just told your best friend that you got that promotion at work, but before you are even finished speaking she interrupts you to tell you about her day at work. The activating event is her interruption. Then you might tell yourself something along these lines; “I can’t believe she doesn’t care about my life!”, “She should be a better friend”, “Real friends don’t behave this way”. Those thoughts would most likely lead to feeling emotionally upset, either angry, bitter or sad.
In the two examples I just gave the person’s self talk wasn’t rational, and the result lead them to negative emotional responses. What do I mean when I say they weren’t rational? Well rational thoughts about the first example might look something like this. “I wonder why my boss wants to talk to me? I guess I’ll find out later” or “Wow, my boss usually give me a heads up on what a meeting is about, he must have a lot on his plate right now. In these examples, those rational thoughts are not likely to illicit a negative emotional response, or any emotional response at all unless it’s pity that your boss is so busy.
In the second example, rational thoughts might look like this: “My friend is usually a caring person, she must have had a pretty bad day to not react to my big news.” or “Well that was certainly a selfish reaction she gave, but everyone is allowed to be selfish from time to time and she doesn’t do this often.” Those rational thoughts about the event again would not likely illicit a negative emotional response.
So, by now you can see how this goes. It’s a pretty clear theory about how emotions happen and it gives a glimpse of how changing how you think about an activating event can also change how you feel about an event. The catch here is that it isn’t easy changing our thought responses to events around us. We’ve been conditioned by years of media and through family and friends to think the way we do.
So if the formula for reducing our emotional disturbances is so clear cut, why hasn’t this idea taken fire? I think the most fundamental reason comes down to magical fairy dust. Magical fairy dust is what most people believe is the cause of their emotions. You’ll hear people say ” I just got mad!” and “You made me upset!” quite often. I call this belief in magical fairy dust. The Emotions Fairy came bounding along and hit that person with anger out of the clear blue! Or, as in the other case, their friend hit them in the face with some high potency emotion fairy dust that instantly got them upset.
Now obviously I’m being flippant here, but I’m trying to get you to understand that the biggest obstacle to you living a happy and healthy life is you. Your willingness to take personal responsibility for yourself is holding you back, and will continue to do so until you have had enough and understand that it all starts with you. It’s not likely your environment, not likely the friends you keep. It’s you.
For the years I’ve been trying to explain the fundamentals to being happier to people the number one push back I got was simple. They simply could not accept that they were responsible for how they felt through what they told themselves about the events in their lives. It just had to be someone else’s fault. If only they were married to the right man, or woman. If only they had a better childhood. If only they were rich. Then, they would have been happy.
Ok, so let’s talk about the five mile view of things. You are here listening to this so I am going to assume that you are doing so because you want to learn how to have a happy and healthy life or be in happy and healthy relationships. That is your life goal right? So now that we know that is your goal, I can define a few things for you.
The word rational is defined as “based on or in accordance with reason or logic”. While most of time that I use the term rational it will fit this definition, there might be a few instances where I do not. For our internal consistency, when I use the term rational what I mean is thus: ” a rational thought is a thought that is productive to your end goal of having a happy and healthy life or relationship”. An irrational thought is one that is counterproductive to that goal.
Let that sink in a minute. If your goal is to have a happy and healthy life or relationship, everything you do or think that is counterproductive to that goal cannot be rational. It’s either irrational or you’d have to end up admitting living a happy life isn’t really your goal. Ouch.
Secondly, let me define what I mean by healthy life or relationship. I am speaking of mental health here, not physical. While physical health would be great and a worthy goal, it’s outside of our scope.
I’m going to end this part one of foundations a bit early and say that next we will dive into how to identify your rational or irrational thoughts that are leading to emotional disturbance and why this matters to leading a happy life and having a great relationship.
I am going to try and keep these sections to under 20 minutes so that I am not overloading people. In each section I will tap into one concept and how it relates to our goals. Today’s was an introduction to the idea that we feel the way we think and to define a few words so we can all be on the same page going forward.
I am Diego Abrams and this is Triscele Life and Relationships. See you for part 2.