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6 Steps to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life

Talk Yourself Out of the Dysfunctional Thinking That Rules Your Emotions

Key points

  • You control your emotions.
  • Your emotions come from your thinking.
  • These beliefs are in the form of demands: musts, shoulds, gottas, and have tos. 
  • Change your emotions by changing your thinking. Do this again and again and again.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), is the forerunner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It was developed by Dr. Albert Ellis, a pioneer in the field. REBT emphasizes that irrational beliefs, as opposed to situations themselves, are at the root of our emotional disturbance. When you feel stressed, guilty, depressed, resentful, or act in self-defeating ways with procrastination and addictions, your demands (musts, shoulds, supposed tos, have tos, and got tos) are the primary cause of your problem.

This is the fundamental and powerful principle for effective psychological change. If you dislike having a particular maladaptive emotion, then change your thinking. That is the culprit.

The 3 major demands people disturb themselves with:

Demand #1: Because I desire to, I absolutely must do well and get approval or else I'm a total loser. This demand leads to anxiety, stress, depression, shame, and guilt.

Demand #2: Because I prefer you to, you absolutely should treat me well with kindness, understanding, patience, and acceptance. If you fail you're a louse, a horrible person. This demand is a major cause of anger, resentment, and hostility.

Demand #3: Because it would be lovely if the world were fair, easy, and hassle-free, it absolutely must be otherwise it's horrible and I can't stand it. This demand leads to procrastination and addictions.

Once you identify your demand, question, challenge, and contradict it. Instead, reinforce and act on passionate desires and preferences.

With little consideration for his employees, at 5 PM your manager announces, "finish the project before you leave work today please." You resent your manager for his inconsiderate behavior. Unfortunately, resentment, anger, and hostility eat you up inside, tend to alienate others, and do not solve your dilemma. How do you address the situation without such a self-defeating emotion? Use an A-B-C-D-E-F flowchart, which I call a Three Minute Therapy Exercise (TME).

Here's an example:

A. (Activating event): It's 4:50 PM and I'm preparing to leave work for a 5 PM dinner with friends. Out of the blue my manager assigns me a last-minute project.

B. (irrational Belief): I wish he were more considerate, therefore he absolutely should be more considerate. He's a rotten person.

C. (undesirable emotional Consequence): Great resentment.

D. (Disputing or questioning the irrational Belief): 1. What's the evidence simply because I prefer him to be more considerate he absolutely should be more considerate? 2. How does his inconsiderate behavior magically turn him into a thoroughly rotten, human being? 3. How does my resentment help me achieve my goals?

E. (Effective new philosophy):

1. My preferring he act more considerately only proves it's what I value and I prefer. It's not evidence he should or must conform to my values.

2. I don't run the universe and I don't control him. He's a free agent with free will; he'll do what he prefers at the moment, not necessarily what I would like.

3. His inconsiderate decision only proves he's an imperfect human who acts imperfectly, never a totally bad person. Condemning his personhood is irrational, doesn't help, and only eats me up inside. His decision is understandable since he's acting in his own best interest.

4. Since he's an imperfect human I can expect him to act imperfectly and do inconsiderate things at times.

5. This is a hassle, not a horror. My job has advantages as well as disadvantages. Getting paid for a job I find interesting (at least at times) outweighs the disadvantages.

6. Eating myself up inside with resentment doesn't help and only makes me feel worse.

7. I can stand this unfair treatment although I greatly dislike it.

F. (new Feeling and/or behavior): Deep disappointment and frustration, rather than resentment. Speak to the manager, explain my dilemma, and and request we delay the meeting until early tomorrow morning.

REBT recommends abolishing all absolutes, all psychopathological musts, shoulds, needs, and have tos while reinforcing and acting on our preferences. Strive to rid yourself of a demanding philosophy. When you succeed, what's left? Unconditional acceptance of yourself, others, and the conditions of your life.


Edelstein, M.R., & Steele, D.R. (2019). Three Minute Therapy.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. It Works for Me--It Can Work for You. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004.