Tool #5:  Correcting Irrational Thinking

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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 ones.  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.  That causes them to
generate a dysfunctional amount of anger.  It causes them to
say and do things that just result in more people telling them
what to do.
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)
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 have 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
Strategy 4:  Simple and Direct Questions
There are simple questions we can ask to challenge and question our irrational beliefs.  For example:

                         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 only correct answers are:

  Answer:                   They don't have to treat you (me) with respect.  
don't have to do anything.
don't have to, you (I) just want them to.  
don't have to, you'd (I'd) just like them to.

Another example:

  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
can say and do whatever they want to
can, I just don't want them to
can, I just don't like when they do
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.  You can do this by using I MESSAGES.  For example:

                      Demand:                  People HAVE TO treat me with more respect

Practice instead saying such things as the following out loud.

                            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.  You practice talking the way you want to
start thinking.

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The closer our THEORIES and HYPOTHESES about the
way life is or should be are to reality, the less emotion we'll
generate needlessly.  The better mental health we'll enjoy.  
The bigger the gap, the more emotion we'll generate
needlessly.  The poorer mental health we'll enjoy.  A theory
that is supported by much evidence from everyday life is that
"People can say or do whatever they want".  This theory
matches reality much better than many others people have.

We teach the Scientific Method in schools all around the
world.  However, we rarely if ever teach students to apply it
to their everyday thoughts and comments (theories and
hypotheses) about the way life is or should be.
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.
mistakes like other people.  That something that did happen
SHOULDN'T have, or CAN'T.  Or finally, that something
SHOULDN'T, CAN'T or MUST NOT happen, or be the way it
is.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.  And sometimes, despite all our best
attempts to avoid some life events, they will still occur.

If you practice and rehearse answering such demands this
way, you'll find yourself starting to smile and laugh.  Smile
and laugh at yourself for making such ridiculous demands of
yourself, others and life.
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
not awful, it's just unpleasant
not awful, it's just inconvenient
not awful, it's just uncomfortable
                                                        At least it's
not as bad as having cancer, etc.
To fully understand the goal of such questioning, imagine
the cognitive-emotional thermostat.  Someone has turned
their thermostat up to NEED, NECESSITY, DEMAND by
choosing verbs like “need”, “have to”, “can’t”, “should” or
“shouldn’t”.  The goal is not to get him/her down to the
bottom “don’t care” section.  It’s simply to get him/her to
the middle WANT, PREFER, DESIRE section.  That’s
where they started out before turning their thermostat
up to a perceived NEED, NECESSITY or DEMAND.  
Remember Rule #1 says we all have the right to want
whatever we want.  A question like, “They can’t, or you don’t
want them to?” actually presents someone with the original
choice he/she had, and encourages him/her to make it
better.  Doing so will turn their emotional thermostat down
from anger to frustration, or irritation or annoyance.
                        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
Imagine the cognitive-emotional thermostat again.  The goal
is simply to reverse what someone did in their mind.  They
took something that was unpleasant, inconvenient, and
uncomfortable and made a “mountain out of a mole hill”.  
They called it awful, asin the worst possible thing that could
be happening.  A question like “Is it awful, or just
unpleasant?” offers someone his/her original choice and
encourages them to make it better.
Imagine the cognitive-emotional thermostat once more.  
Someone started out not liking something.  That’s his/her
right as a human being.  The mistake they made was to start
telling him/herself that he/she
                      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
can’t or couldn’t stand it.  A question like “You can’t stand it,
or just don’t like it?” presents him/her with the original choice
in the hope he/she will turn his/her thermostat down.
Once more, the goal is to encourage someone to turn
his/her cognitive thermostat down.  It to reverse what
he/she did in his/her own mind.  He/she started out disliking
someone else’s or his/her own behavior.  That’s his/her
right.  However, he/she started condemning the DOER
instead of the DEED.  He/she over generalized.  A question
like “You’re stupid, or just did a stupid thing?” present
him/her with the original choice and encourages him/her to
turn his/her thermostat down.
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