“How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything – Yes, Anything!” is a positive psychology book teaching readers how to apply the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
- We all naturally tend to think in ways that make us unhappier -and more anxious and neurotic-
- Luckily, we can change that and train ourselves to think in ways that help us to be both more effective, and happier
- REBT is a set of techniques to improve the way we think, and the way we feel. It consists in disputing “awfulizing” thoughts, and replacing them with more upbeat, as well as more realistic thinking
About the Author:
Albert Ellis (September 27, 1913 – July 24, 2007) was an American psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). He is also generally considered one of the originators and early proponents of cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT).
He is also the author of “How to Keep People from Pushing Your Buttons“.
CBT VS REBT
Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is the first form of Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), with CBT being so popular that it can be considered an umbrella term for many similar cognitive-behavioral therapies.
Psychologist Martin Seligman frames CBT as part of a revolution in psychology that moved away from Freudian psychoanalysis and a focus on “combating illnesses” towards a focus on the pleasure of life and optimal performance.
REBT and CBT have much in common, including the stoic philosophy that we create our own feelings, and not the external events.
But, says Ellis:
Unlike most other Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBTs) it highlights three basic philosophies (…) especially Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better, Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors; Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy—It Works for Me, It Can Work for You; and The Road to Tolerance: The Philosophy of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
These philosophies follow from being aware of your dysfunctional and Irrational Beliefs, cognitively-emotionally-behaviorally Disputing them, and arriving at Effective New Philosophies or Rational Coping Philosophies.
When it comes to the differences between CBT and REBT, I also found useful what psychologist Michael R Edelstein says on Psychology Today (I paraphrase):
- REBT goes deeper into the sources of your discomfort, while CBT encourages you to simply skip the rumination
Imagine you’re afraid of asking a woman out for a date and think about her possible reactions. CBT would call your inferences “mind-reading” and advise you to drop them.
REBT instead helps you address the deep-rooted reasons that make you anxious and leads you to mind-reading, which include:
- “Because I strongly prefer to, I absolutely must succeed, or else I’m no good,”
- “Because I desire it, others absolutely must treat me well or else they’re no good,”
- “Because I passionately wish it, life absolutely must go well or else it’s no good.”
Once you start addressing those natural, yet self-harming thoughts, you will naturally improve your thinking, your mood, as well as your personal efficacy in life, since you don’t get stuck into negative patterns anymore.
- REBT addresses “secondary disturbances (SD)”, CBT doesn’t
Secondary disturbances are disturbances about the disturbance itself.
In simple terms, if you are anxious about asking that girl on that date, and you worry about your anxiety, that’s a “secondary disturbance”, and it’s a very common cause of anxiety, grief, and depression.
- REBT promotes unconditional self-acceptance (USA), CBT promotes “high self-esteem”
While some forms of CBT seek to promote self-esteem based on results or positive self-rating, REBT promotes self-acceptance no matter your results.
If you fail to get that date for example, you could rate your performance as poor, but you would never generalize that instance to your whole self. You continue to accept yourself as an imperfect, but a valuable human being no matter what happens.
I might add, that REBT is more “antifragile” here.
- REBT views all forms of anger as inappropriate, CBT accepts or welcome some forms of anger
Both CBT and REBT teach assertiveness, but while CBT views some expressions of anger as healthy, REBT addresses the underlying causes of anger because it does not see it as a legit or helpful emotion.
REBT, for example, says that if you get angry because that woman denied you a date, it’s probably because there is a “must” or a “should” in your thinking pattern.
You had to perform well, or she had to go out with you. When you address those “musts”, then anger disappears or dissipates.
I personally see some expressions of anger as legit. And sometimes, hopefully rarely, you need some aggression to be an effective human being.
But I also agree with REBT, and its approach helps you to be more analytically effective and in control of yourself, and of your life (Ray Dalio would call it “looking at yourself from the above, as if you were a machine, and Jocko Willink and John would call it “detaching“)
- REBT Differentiates between positive and negative feelings, CBT doesn’t
Most other therapies—such as the behavior therapy of Joseph Wolpe and the cognitive therapies of Richard Lazarus, Aaron Beck, and Donald Meichenbaum—emphasize strong feelings, like severe sadness and irritation, and put them into the same category as feelings of depression and anger.
Not so REBT! REBT considers your strong feelings of sadness, irritation, and concern to be healthy, because they help you to express your displeasure at undesirable happenings and to work at modifying them.
REBT instead shows you to be aware of those feelings, and categorize them as healthy or unhealthy, desirable or undesirable, as well as assessing how helpful they are in relation to the goals you are trying to reach.
The three basic “Rational Coping Philosophies”
- Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA) instead of Conditional Self-Esteem (CSE): You rate and evaluate your thoughts, feelings, and actions in relation to your main Goals of remaining alive and reasonably happy. When they help, you rate that as “good” or “effective,” and when they sabotage you rate that as “bad” or “ineffective.” But you always—yes, always—accept and respect yourself, whether or not you perform well and whether or not other people approve of you and your behaviors.
- Unconditional Other-Acceptance (UOA). You rate what other people think, feel, and do as “good” or “bad.” But you never rate them as totally bad or good. You accept and respect them—but not some of their traits and doings—just because, like you, they are alive and human. You have helpful compassion for all humans—and perhaps for all sentient creatures.
- Unconditional Life-Acceptance (ULA). You rate the conditions of your life and your community as “good” or “bad”—in accordance with your and your community’s moral Goals. But you never rate life itself or conditions themselves as “good” or “bad”; you try to change the dislikable conditions you can change, have the serenity to accept those you cannot change, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
REBT Exercise #1.: Distinguish between healthy concerns, and unhealthy anxiety
Unhealthy anxieties contain one or more of the following:
- awfulizings (or “catastrophizing”)
If I get fined for 10.000 Euros (as I must not), I could never get financially whole again (and that would show what a wholly incompetent person I am!)
It’s absolutely necessary that I not lose my sight, for if I did, my life would be awful and horrible, and I could never enjoy anything again!
In these sentences and thoughts, which are normal for most people, there are embedded the predictions of unconditional and complete pain, and they leave you no way out of continual suffering.
Add a “but” for healthy concerns
I certainly wouldn’t like to being fined for 10.000 Euros, but if it does occur, I can handle it and I can build my savings back up again
And even more serious issues, without having to sugarcoat anything to yourself:
If I lost my sight, that would be exceptionally handicapping, but I could still have a good many enjoyments.
The “but” serves you to:
- Prevent the all-too-common catastrophizing
- Help you consider, as well as focus, on what you can do about it, and that you can still have the option for good life
How to stop overly negative emotions: in desires & preferences, out musts & shoulds
Ellis invites the reader to imagine something dreadful or painful.
For example, a boss yelling at you.
Do you only feel sorry, sad, or regretful?
Or do you also feel angry and depressed?
Sorry or sad are OK feelings, but anger and depression are overreactions, and they are avoidable.
In that case, look in your thoughts -or hidden in the way you think- for:
My boss must not criticize me like that! I can’t bear that kind of continual criticism!
But it’s not written anywhere that your boss is forbidden to yell or criticize. Or, at least, you can’t fully prevent that because that’s not up to you.
What you can prevent, and control, are your exaggerated feelings as a reaction of what someone else does.
And to avoid over-reacting, drop your “musts” and replace them with preferences and desires.
Many people have preferences, but then most people move from preferences to commands. They want something, so then they say they must get it.
And that’s where neurosis, anxieties, as well as unnecessary self-beatings start.
There is a big difference in the intensity of your negative feelings when something bad happens that is beyond your preferences and desires, or your musts, shoulds, and necessities.
Drop the “must” to succeed
Similarly, what often causes anxiety is the “need” and “musts” for success.
- “Since these people are important, I must impress them”
- “Because I want to do well at work, I have to!”
- “Since I like him very much, I’ve got to win his approval !”
- “Passing this test is very important for my career. Therefore, I have to pass it!”
- “Because this is a high-paying job, it is necessary that I please the interviewer.”
The 3 basics “musts” are:
- “I must perform well and/or win the approval of important people or else I am an inadequate person!”
- “You must treat me fairly and considerately and not unduly frustrate me or else you are a rotten individual.”
- “My life conditions must give me the things I want and have to have to keep me from harm or else life is unbearable and I can’t be happy at all!”
Dropping the “musts” is a must -sorry the pun :)- because your “awfulizings” stem from these musts.
Your awfulizing and terribleizing basically stems from your command, your necessity, that this very bad loss must not occur.
Stop your emotional anguish by dropping the “should have” about the past
Especially enlightening to me was the use of “musts” and “shoulds” in the past, which have long been an issue for me.
- “Because I wanted the job, I should have prepared for the interview. But since I didn’t prepare as well as I must, I’m an idiot who doesn’t deserve a good job like this!”
- “I could have practiced more to win this chess match but didn’t practice as much as I should have, and that proves that I’m a lazy slob who will never be very good at chess or anything else!”
- “I could have gone to the beach on Saturday, but foolishly waited until Sunday—when it rained. The weather should have continued to be good on Sunday. How horrible it was that it rained. I can’t stand rain when I want to go to the beach!”
I also had a recent example and case study for this.
I was blaming myself over a heartbreak and for not having well protected my lover.
I’d say to myself:
I should have known that eventually leaving Seoul was going to be a heartbreak for me, and even more for her. I should have warned with more advanced, and I should have taken more steps to make sure she was going to be fine and happy.
That makes me to blame for her pain, and might make me a value-taker in her life.
In a way, it’s a great thing that I was taking responsibility not just for myself, but as well, and even more so, for her feelings as well.
That’s how a value-adding, “enlightened leader” thinks and acts. However, I was getting stuck in those loops for too long, and that brought unneeded misery, as well ad making me think and strategize less effectively on the best courses of action.
With REBT, things improved:
Yes, I knew I was going to leave, but she knew as well.
Yes, warning her repeatedly might have lessened her emotional pain upon departure. But then again, it might have also ruined our summer romance for reminding ourselves of the Damocles sword hanging over our head (rational disputing).
Yes, it was very painful for her, but she also enjoyed a great summer love, got over her last LTR break-up pain, and I enriched her in many ways with power dynamics principles and self-empowering mindsets that left her a far better woman.
And now, when the emotional pain will be over, we will still have a lifelong beautiful memory to look up, and a lifelong beautiful connection
And also all based on truth.
Use scientific thinking to dismantle your irrational beliefs
How can the scientific method help you lead a happier life?
By using it to rip apart your nonsense generalizations, black-and-white thinking, and awfulizings.
(the rational method can help) By taking your emotional upsets, and the irrational Beliefs (iBs) that you mainly use to create them, and by using the scientific method to rip them up. By scientifically thinking, feeling, and acting against them.
Some examples Ellis provides:
- Bad “must” thinking and awfulizing:
“I have to be approved by people whom I find important, and it’s awful if I am not!”
- Scientific analysis:
Is this belief realistic and factual? Clearly not, because there is no law of the universe that says that I have to be approved of by people whom I find important, and there is a law of probability that says that many of the people I would prefer to approve of me definitely will not.
It’s not awful or catastrophic when I am not approved of, only uncomfortable. Bad things may happen to me when I am not approved of. But when something is “awful” it is (a) exceptionally bad, (b) totally bad, or (c) as bad as it could be. Being disapproved of by important people may not even be exceptionally but only moderately bad. It is certainly not totally bad—and it could always be worse. So this belief doesn’t by any means conform to reality.
Is this belief flexible? Definitely not, because it holds that under all conditions and at all times people whom I find important absolutely have to approve of me.
Can this belief be falsified?
Yes, because important people can disapprove of me and I can still find life desirable.
Does this belief prove deservingness? No, I cannot prove that even if I act nicely to important people that there is a rule of the universe that they ought to and have to approve of me. Deservingness is another falsifiable belief.
Does this belief show that I will act well and get good, happy results by holding it?
On the contrary. No matter how hard I try to get people to approve of me, I can easily fail—and if I then think that they have to like me, I will most probably feel depressed. By holding the idea that at all times under all conditions people whom I find important must approve of me, I will almost certainly fail to work effectively at getting their approval and also hate them, hate myself, and hate the world when they do not do what they supposedly must.
If you are still struggling with the concept and process, Ellis provides several more examples in the book.
Achieving, without fearing failure: dropping “must” while still working hard
I think this is the crucial sweet spot that we all drive people must find:
How to keep pushing ourselves, while also enjoying life.
It’s easy when you’re driven to place high demands on yourself, and to be too harsh on yourself and your results.
But if you don’t push yourself, then you’re not going to achieve much.
And I think that REMBT offers a good alternative and solution for this dilemma.
I paraphrase Ellis:
How do you achieve without self-hating?
By not giving up your preference for achieving your goals, but eliminating your demands and musts.
As long as you tell yourself that “you would really like to achieve X, but you don’t have to,’ you’ll retain your task-perfectionism but not your self-perfectionism.”
I think this is so important that we need to stress it further:
Seek task-perfectionism, but not self-perfectionism.
No matter how bad your task turns out to be, you still accept yourself. And the converse is true: no matter how good your task turn out to be, you still don’t think you’re “the best”, because otherwise at the next failure, you’ll be a failure again.
This is the basis of “antifragile ego”.
In my opinion, it might also be possible to feel great about your successes, without taking then feeling too bad about your failures. That’s the next level though.
How to control your feelings with ABC
I summarize from Ellis’ previous book –look here for full overview-:
- Activating events: specific people, events, or succession of events that can push our buttons. They can even be positive events, sometimes, like weddings, job opportunities, etc.).
- Beliefs/thoughts: there are four main ways we think about our situations and events (here I list 5 because Ellis adds another one in another chapter). In red the bad ones, in green the ones you should use:
- Catastrophizing / awfulizing: you make things a bigger deal than they actually are.
- Shoulding (absolutist thinking): “I must”, “I have to”, “I should” (shoulding, musting, or demanding).
- Blaming people rather than their acts:
- Rationalizing: “Who cares!”, “and so?” “it doesn’t bother me”.
- realistic preferences: “I want”, “I’d like”, “I’d prefer”, and “It would be better if”. They all have an overt or implied “but” in it. Such as, if the person or the situation doesn’t turn the way you want, you’ll still be OK with it.
- Consequences: represent two things:
- Behaviors in the specific situation occurring at Point A
To control your thinking with REBT, do the following:
- Identity irrational beliefs:
- look for musts / absolute shoulds / oughts
- awfulizing / catastrophizing
- frustration and intolerance (“I can’t stand it”)
- self-downing -“I’m worthless”- / others-downing -“he’s worthless”- / or life-downing -“life’s terrible”
- Change irrational belief by asking yourself:
- is this belief helpful?
- where is the evidence to support this belief? Ask yourself “why I must accomplish X”, and then answer that “you don’t have to”
- is it logical?
- use metaphorical disputation: metaphors, stories humor
- Switch to more rational thinking:
- Flexible preferences: “I want to do great, but I don’t have to”
- Anti-awfulizing: “it might be bad, but it’s not awful”
- High-frustration tolerance: “and I can stand it”
- Acceptance of self, others, and life: “I can accept myself no matter what happens” / “I accept myself as a fallible human being”
REBT instead of psychoanalysis to cure childhood wounds
To some extent, you “invented” your past by interpreting it and framing it in a certain way.
And you are certainly keeping it alive today, and allowing it to make you feel bad when you still think that it influences you and harms you.
You do that in 3 ways, says Ellis:
- By repeating the same irrational beliefs that upset you as a child. For example “I not only want mom’s approval, but I need, and I’m a basket case without it”
- By holding on those same beliefs today
- By refusing to rethink, reframe, and act your irrational beliefs
In the past, you largely made your bed of neurosis and you are insisting on lying in it today!
Instead, you can use REBT to understand how you created your early neurosis early on, how you now perpetuate them and, most of all, you can learn how to most past them.
My Note: Genius & Helpful
This was both a genius insight, and also very helpful to me.
If, therefore, you use REBT to understand your early life, you can focus on your part in creating it and on how you now perpetuate your childish thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
Shame and humiliation are illegitimate feelings
REBT considers feelings of shame or humiliation illegitimate because they almost always include a rational element (“I did something people consider wrong or stupid, and I would not like people to disapprove of me for doing it”) and they also include an irrational or self-downing statement (“Therefore, I am a rotten or stupid person”).
Based on this idea, Ellis create his famous “shame attacking exercises”, which consists in beating shame by doing something that you’d consider very embarrassing, including:
- Dress inappropriately
- Say something foolish to a group of people
- Confess some weakness that people usually despise, such as, “I can’t spell well.”
- Act strangely, such as singing in the street or holding up a black umbrella on a sunny day
- Yell out the stops on a train or bus
I love Ellis and he has boatloads of wisdom, but I’m personally not too sure about this technique.
Also, I remember some research showing that it’s more effective to conquer fears with baby steps, rather than going “all-out”, all of a sudden.
- Constantly dispute your irrational beliefs
To make REBT work and improve your life, you must constantly use it to correct your thought patterns.
And you must:
- Belief in your disputes
If you just repeat and think enlightening REBT insights without truly believing them, it won’t work.
You must use dispute your belief in a way that you can actually believe it and agree with it. Then it will work.
- Drop “grandiose thinking”:
The usual kinds of emotional disturbances or neuroses (such as most feelings of anxiety and rage) largely come from grandiose thinking. Even when you have great feelings of inadequacy? Yes, your inferiority feelings are, ironically, the result of your godlike demands.
- Watch out for feeling too good about your results: it’s a trap
This is something I’ve stressed a few times on ThePowerMoves, as well as on this website’s self-help book “Ultimate Power”, and Ellis describes the same concept very eloquently:
If you do feel like a noble, superhuman, holier-than-thou person, you are then, according to REBT, experiencing an unhealthy positive feeling. For you are then in a grandiose, egotistical state and have raised yourself above other human beings. You have jumped from the idea that “My behavior is outstanding” to “I am therefore an outstanding, great person!”
- Conventional insight and psychoanalysis rarely help
Conventional insight will help you very little. For it says that your knowledge of exactly how you got disturbed will make you less neurotic. Drivel! It will often help make you become nuttier!
Ellis says that insights about your past might help, if you use it correctly. But that much psychoanalysis is unscientific and that does not necessarily help. In the end, it’s still about you. How you reacted to your past events or parents, how you thought about them, and how you’re still thinking about them.
(…) For even if you did take your self-hating idea from your parents, we still had better ask: Why did you accept these ideas? What are you now doing to carry them on? How do we know that if your parents taught you to always accept yourself, you still wouldn’t have concluded that you must make a million dollars to be worthwhile?
If, for example, you truly think you have to win your father’s love and that you can only do so by making a million dollars, how does that knowledge make you surrender your dire need for his approval? To change, you still would have to dispute that idea and to act against it. And psychoanalysis helps you do nothing like this—and encourages you (and your analyst) to keep looking for more brilliant “true” interpretations.
LOL, I love this guy.
Plus, often, it’s either useless or wrong.
On acting VS being:
“How, then, do I become an incompetent or bad person?”
“You don’t! When you do incompetent or evil acts, you become a person who acted badly—never a bad person.”
This is the famous experiment of Ellis forcing himself to talk to random women:
Although very fearful and uncomfortable, I forced myself to carry out this assignment—made myself open a conversation with over one hundred women in a single month.
I received no direct reward from these pick-ups—since only one of these one hundred females made a date with me and she never showed up!—but I completely overcame my fear of encountering strange women and have been able to talk to them easily ever since. For by getting rejected so many times, I saw that nothing dreadful happened.
This book is a life changer.
Maybe the only small -very small- con:
- Could be more optimistic
Maybe Ellis is sometimes not optimistic enough about life in general.
For example, he says:
Life, as we say in REBT, is frequently spelled H-A-S-S-L-E. A good deal of it, with thought and effort, you can greatly improve. Not all! Not completely!
Tough. But not awful, not horrible, not terrible. Just tough.
Who says that it’s tough?
I’m pretty sure that there are countless of people who don’t think their life is one bit tough, but that’s instead a walk in the park -and a fun walk in the park-.
Why not being one of those people?
“How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, Yes, Anything” is a masterpiece.
Come to think of it, the only bad thing about it might be the title :). Takes a bit to spell it and write it.