As always, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors
Now that we have gone through the basics of REBT and the twelve self-defeating beliefs, I want to take some time and give you another tool in the fight against your self-defeating beliefs and the irrational self-talk they generate – Distraction.
How am I defining distraction?
Distraction is anything you can do that keeps you from thinking about a certain subject. For example, it’s hard to be thinking of your partner leaving you while paying attention to a movie or while reading a book.
How is this a tool in our fight against irrational thoughts? One of the hardest things about changing how you think is identifying your irrational thoughts while in the moment. Especially after those thoughts have generated non-productive emotions. When you are actively in a negative feedback loop, it’s near impossible to just start thinking rationally. This is where distraction can help. Distraction offers a way to interrupt the feedback loop while it’s happening. Once you’ve interrupted the loop, you can then go back and examine the irrational thoughts and self-defeating beliefs that started your cascade downhill.
The single biggest obstacle you will encounter in your path to change how you think and thus change how you feel is stopping the chain reaction that inevitably occurs once you start thinking irrationally about an activating event. What you must understand at this early stage of trying to think differently is that your goal, for now, isn’t to never have these events, but instead to form habits that will allow you to avoid them in the future.
What I am trying to say is that you are not failing when you have emotional disturbances. In fact, there is no way you can learn how to form new habits without having them. The first step in changing how we think is to identify our self-defeating beliefs and irrational self-talk about those beliefs. This is why I have told everyone that we must log our emotional disturbances. To put it in the simplest terms, the first step into changing how we think is to get to know ourselves and our current patterns of thinking. It is only once we understand how we think that we can then start to create rational substitutes to our self-defeating beliefs.
Let’s look at a visual of how we think and feel –
A feedback loop, be it positive or negative looks like this
So we now want to take a look at distraction as a tool to break a feedback loop.
The activating event: Suzy, Karla’s best friend starts dating Doug, the guy Karla just broke up with last week.
Her likely self-defeating belief: “People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be blamed and punished.”
Her likely irrational thoughts based on her self-defeating beliefs: “How dare Suzy date Doug, she knows that ex boyfriends are off limits!” and “If she thinks I am ever going to talk to her again she is sadly mistaken!”
Her likely emotional response is anger and possibly sadness.
That anger leads to additional irrational thoughts such as “I can’t believe that she would do this to me. She knew I still cared for him.”, “I bet she was seeing him while I was dating him!”, “I am going to get even with Suzy!” or a host other possibilities that will lead to even stronger emotional responses. In this example she has entered a feedback loop.
At the time of the feedback loop all Karla knows is that she is angry. She is too emotional to see that her thoughts are irrational and not productive. However she does know she is angry and because she is aware, somewhere in her head, that she is the cause of her anger, she decides to try to break the loop by using distraction.
In this case, she decides to crawl in bed and watch a comedy that she knows isn’t going to allow her to think about the activating event. She might also have decided to do yoga, call her mom to talk about her mom’s day, turn on the radio and sing happy songs, go on a long run or any number of things she knows will not allow her to return to thinking about the activating event.
Once you have broken the feedback loop by taking time to do something distracting your emotional response will also change until you start thinking about the activating event again. The goal here is to distract yourself for long enough to calm down. Once calm, you can then try and examine what you were telling yourself about the activating event that caused a non-productive emotional response. You then, with a clearer head, can write them down and search out rational beliefs to replace the self-defeating ones you began with.
Remember, our long term goal in all of this is to form habits . You formed your current habits of thinking, over time, and it will take time to form new ones. It will also take dedication. You can’t only do this once in a while, you have to do this each time you find yourself emotionally disturbed. If you do, you will find that each time you feel yourself becoming upset you will start to automatically look to break the feedback loop, or if the emotional response isn’t too intense, you will start to examine what it is you are telling yourself and replace those irrational thoughts with their rational counterparts.
Once you have done this enough times over a long enough period of you will find that you have the original self-defeating beliefs less and less. Your mind will have replaced them with their more productive counter-part.
It is this reason that I have asked you to catalog your irrational thoughts for a set period of time and look for patterns in your thoughts. Those patterns will identify your most often used self-defeating beliefs. It is those most common self-defeating beliefs that you should start tackling first. If you can, over a six month period of time, consistently challenge your top two self-defeating beliefs, you will find that they happen much less frequently . As a bonus, because you have created a habit of thinking rationally, you will find that tackling your next two or more most often used self-defeating belief will be much easier. Not only will it be easier, but it will take a little shorter period of time for those self-defeating beliefs to fade. The whole thing becomes a boulder rolling downhill.
However, all the above cannot happen without dedicating yourself to change. You have to do it each time you have non productive emotional responses. If you take a week or two off, you will find yourself working from the start. Forming a habit takes at least six months of dedication and to form habits that are lasting, you must be dedicated for at least a year.
So great, I did it for a year, I am all better! Not exactly. If you do it for a year, you will find that continuing to do it comes second nature. It does not mean that you will not have times where you catch yourself in a feedback loop. It just means that when you do, you will know how to easily and quickly get yourself out of it. If you get lazy, your old habits will start forming anew.
I have been practicing these techniques for over fifteen years now. I did not start out as dedicated as I should have been so I struggled for the first few years. I understood what the problem was, I just wasn’t doing the work I needed to do to make lasting changes. It wasn’t until about ten years ago I started to really dedicate myself to changing my top few self-defeating beliefs. After those, I hit the next two, then the next two. Today, I am seldom upset form more than a few minutes. The techniques I lay out here are so ingrained in my head that I do them now without really giving them much conscious thought.
The results over time have been remarkable. My original top four self-defeating beliefs are gone. I just don’t find myself going there in my mind anymore. About the only thing I really still have to consciously tackle from time to time is the belief that things should happen as I think they should and I only have issues with this self-defeating belief when I am very emotionally invested in an outcome of an event. However, even that is fading with time and continued effort.
I also know that I am not an anomaly. The fundamentals of REBT help those who are dedicated to applying it to their daily lives and study after study for the last forty years has proven this. What I have gone over in my foundation series is just scratching the surface of everything it has to offer and I would urge anyone to further study the subject. There is a wealth of information and books out there to find and go much more in-depth than I have.
For the Triscele way, this is but the foundation we are going to build upon. However without this Foundation being rock-solid, everything above it will collapse. Without a deep understanding that we feel the way we think, you will fight the concepts in the next series.
For this section, I’ve introduced an effective way to kick yourself out of a feedback loop. Let’s once more look at how it will work with a visual.
The graphic perfectly illustrated the path to productive emotional responses. One thing to understand is that distraction should really only be used when you are in a feedback loop. Identifying that is relatively simple. If you are experiencing intense emotions and cannot stop yourself from thinking about an activating event, you are in a feedback loop.
When you are just experiencing mild emotional responses, the best course of action is to just directly examine what you thinking that could cause the emotion.
The thing that is most important to understand is that distraction is not the cure. Meditation, yoga, exercise, etc. are tools to help you, but they are not the cure. If you are not figuring out what your self-defeating beliefs and irrational thoughts are and replacing them with their rational counterparts, using distraction is just a temporary fix. It might get you out of your head in the moment, but it isn’t going to prevent you from going right back there again. Just because you feel better after using distraction doesn’t mean you are better.
In this section of Foundations we looked at a major tool you need to help you start changing how you think. For the last section in Foundations, part ten, we are going to take an in-depth look at the most common problem people have that prevent them from being happy and being in healthy relationships: self-worth.
For now, I am Diego Abrams and this is Triscele Life and Relationships.