A powerful idea popularized in the 1950’s by radical REBT psychologist Albert Ellis is now widely accepted as the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy: our disturbed emotions and self-destructive behaviors are generated by our unreasonable thinking. The major culprit is not our dysfunctional family, our genetic proclivities, or the unfair treatment we face. Consequently, changing our unrealistic inner dialogue is the fundamental path to emotional and behavioral improvement. 

Fortunately this theory can be imploemented simply and quickly by daily writing the ABC exercise Dr. Ellis devised and which I call the Three Minute Exercise (TME) in my book, Three Minute Therapy.

Here is a TME example using a common yet often unidentified dieting problem, your self-condemnation for failing at your diet:

A. (Activating event.) I cheated on my diet and compulsively ate junk food.

B. (Irrational Belief.) I absolutely must stop cheating on my diet and because I haven’t this makes me a Total Failure incapable of following through. 

C. (Undesirable emotional or behavioral Consequences.) Feeling like a hopeless loser and a failure.

D. (Disputing or questioning your irrational belief.)  What is the evidence I absolutely must stop cheating, otherwise I turn into a Total Failure incapable of following through? 

E. (Effective new philosophy.) I adamantly wish I had not cheated on my diet, but nothing etched in stone says I absolutely must never cheat. This consists of a setback, not the end of my world. Since I’m human and have a passion for food, of course, of course, I’ll slip up at times. It’s quite disappointing, never awful, terrible, or horrible.

All this proves about my worth, at the very worst, is I’m an imperfect human who acts imperfectly, never a hopeless loser or total failure. It’s not my cheating which causes my hopelessness, rather it’s my unreasonable thinking about it that’s my undoing.

With practice I can change my thinking and learn to unconditionally accept myself with my setbacks as the fallible human I am, rather than beat myself for them. This new view will make me more determined to succeed and allow me to refuse to give up in the face of defeat. 

F. (New Feeling or behavior resulting from E.) Disappointment and concern. Unconditional acceptance of my imperfect self. Refusal to give up. Determined to work harder at my diet.

Writing just one TME is usually not a quick fix. Rather, practice writing them meaningfully, vigorously, and persistently daily. Fix your compulsive eating at its root: your thinking and believing. 

Dr. Edelstein practices REBT in-person and remotely. You can reach him at http://www.ThreeMinuteTherapy.com.

About the Author

Michael R. Edelstein

Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Three Minute Therapy and Stage Fright.

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