| Tool #5: Correcting Irrational Thinking
| Strategy 1: The Scientific Method
|Every thought we have is basically our THEORY or HYPOTHESIS about the way life is, or should be.
Does the evidence from life support our theories? Are they good ones? Or does the evidence
instead refute our theories and suggest alternative theories. For example, "They can't tell me what to
do" is a theory that young people cling to all the time. However, it's not well supported by everyday
evidence in their lives. Many have people telling them what to do all the time. Clinging to such a
theory creates a big gap between their expectations and reality, and causes them to often generate a
dysfunctional amount of anger.
The closer our theories and hypotheses about the way life is or should be are to reality, the better
mental health we'll enjoy. The bigger the gap becomes, the more emotion we'll generate needlessly,
and the poorer mental health we'll enjoy. A much better theory that is supported by much evidence is
"People can say or do whatever they want".
We teach the Scientific Method in schools all around the world, but rarely if ever teach students to
apply it to their everyday thoughts and comments (theories and hypotheses) about life around them.
| Strategy 2: Fact or Opinion?
|A simple way to dispute, question or challenge what someone thinks, or says, is to ask a simple
question, "Is that a fact or opinion?" When people disturb themselves more than is necessary or
helpful, it's typically because they are thinking in terms of, or expressing OPINIONS rather than
FACTS. For example:
They CAN'T say that about me (OPINION)
They can say whatever they want to (FACT)
Once again, the closer our thoughts match reality, the better mental health we'll enjoy, and the less
emotion we'll generate needlessly. The bigger the difference, the less mentally healthy we'll be, and
the more we'll disturb yourself unnecessarily. In other words, the more we think in terms of
OPINIONS, the more we are likely to disturb ourselves needlessly. The more we can learn to think in
terms of FACTS, the less disturbance we'll generate needlessly.
| Strategy 3: Easily!
|As noted earlier, DEMANDS often come in the form of a question like "How dare they...?", "How could
they...?" or "How could I...?" For example:
"How dare they talk to me like that?"
"How could they act like that?"
"How could I done such a stupid thing?"
"How could this happen to us?"
The implicit DEMANDS in such questions are that someone else SHOULDN'T, CAN'T or MUST NOT
talk to you in some way you don't like, that they SHOULD, HAVE TO or MUST act the way you would
want them to instead of the way they did. Or, that you SHOULD, HAVE TO or MUST be perfect and
never make mistakes like other people, and that something that did happen SHOULDN'T have, or
The answer to all such questions is alway one word. EASILY!!! It doesn't take a lot of energy, effort
or thought for others to do things we don't like. Or for us to make mistakes. It's EASY
If you practice and rehearse answering all such demands this way, you'll find yourself starting to
smile and laugh at yourself for making such ridiculous demands of yourself, others and life.
| Strategy 4: Simple and Direct Questions
|Another way to dispute irrational thinking is to ask simple but direct questions. For example,
suppose someone makes the following DEMAND:
Belief: That HAVE TO (should, must) treat me with respect!
Dispute: Why do they have to treat you with respect?
They have to, or you just want them to?
They have to, or you'd just like them to?
When people are first asked such questions, they usually start their response with "Because...."
Anything they say after that is the wrong answer. The correct answer is:
Answer: They don't have to treat you (me) with respect.
They don't have to do anything.
They don't have to, you (I) just want them to.
They don't have to, you'd (I'd) just like them to.
Belief: They CAN'T (shouldn't, must not) talk to me like that
Dispute: Why can't they talk to you like that?
They can't, or you just don't want them to?
They can't, or you just don't like when they do?
Answer: They can talk to you (me) like that
They can say and do whatever they want to
They can, I just don't want them to
They can, I just don't like when they do
Affirming the Preference
Rule #1 says we have the right to want whatever we want. Rule #5 says we have the right to like or
dislike whatever we want. Affirming the preference simply means that we remind someone of those
rules before disputing their belief. For example
ATP: I can understand why you don't like it. I wouldn't like it either. BUT
Dispute: Why can't they talk to you like that?
You can do the same with the other three forms of irrational thinking. For example:
Belief: It's really AWFUL that they did that? (Awfulizing)
Dispute: Why is it so awful?
Is it awful, or just unpleasant?
Is it awful, or just inconvenient?
Is it awful, or just uncomfortable?
Is it awful like having cancer, or something like that?
Answer: It's not really awful
It's not awful, it's just unpleasant
It's not awful, it's just inconvenient
It's not awful, it's just uncomfortable
At least it's not as bad as having cancer, etc.
Belief: I CAN'T STAND IT when people do that (Can't Stand It-itis)
Dispute: Why can't you stand it?
Are you going to die or go crazy when they do that?
You can't stand it, or just don't like it?
Answer: I can stand it
I'm not going to die or go crazy just because of that
I can stand it, I just don't like it
Belief: He's STUPID for doing that" (Label and Damning)
Dispute: Why is he stupid just because he did that?
He's stupid, or just did a stupid thing?
He's stupid, or just did something you didn't like?
He's stupid, or just a fallible human being like the rest of us?
Answer: He's not stupid just because of that
He's not stupid, he just did a stupid thing
He's not stupid, he just did something I didn't like
He's not stupid, he's just a fallible human being like the rest of us
| Strategy 5: I Messages
|One final way to correct irrational thinking is to practice and rehearse expressing DEMANDS as the
original WANT, PREFERENCE or DESIRE (WPD) they started out as using I MESSAGES. For example:
Demand: People HAVE TO treat me with more respect
WPD: I WANT people to treat me with more respect
I'D LIKE people to treat me with more respect
I'D PREFER people treat me with more respect
I'D RATHER people treat me with more respect
I WISH people would treat me with more respect
I'D APPRECIATE it if people would treat me with more respect
In REBT, this is called putting your behavior where you want your attitude to be.