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What Are Your Irrational Beliefs? 

Identifying your "B" through a three-minute exercise.

Key points

  • Irrational beliefs consist of absolutes, demands, and global evaluations.
  • These demands are often expressed in the form of musts, shoulds, and have-to’s.
  • Emotional disturbance-creating irrational demands lie in three realms: demands on oneself, on others, or on the conditions of your life.

Irrational beliefs (B's) consist of absolutes, demands, and global evaluations. These demands are often expressed in the form of musts, shoulds, have-to's, got-to's, condemnations, damning, and blaming. They always include overgeneralizations, which should never exist in the real world.

Emotional disturbance-creating irrational demands generally lie within three realms:

  1. Demands on Oneself. These are ego demands in the form of, "I absolutely must do well and get approval or else I'm no good." They lead to anxiety, worry, stress, guilt, and depression.
  2. Demands on Others. These are grandiosity demands in the form of, "You absolutely must treat me well or else you're no good," and are the cause of anger, resentment, and hostility.
  3. Demands on the Conditions of Your Life. These are low-frustration-tolerance demands in the form of, "My life must be fair, easy, and hassle-free or else it's no good." These can lead to procrastination, self-pity, depression, addictions, and procrastination.

How to find your demand

Ask yourself, "What was I telling myself (what was my must) about my situation immediately before I made myself disturbed? Was it some form of, 'I must do well and get approval?' or 'Others must treat me well?' or 'My life must be enjoyable, fair, easy, and hassle-free?'"Once identified, your TME will resemble this structurally:

A. I had an urge for a beer.

B. I strongly prefer to have a beer and therefore I must drink.

C. I drank.

D. What is the evidence I must satisfy my urge?

E. There is no evidence, data, or logic that proves I have to do what I prefer. I have a choice. I can choose to drink or choose not to drink. I'm a free agent with free will. The bottle does not control me. I don't like denying myself this pleasure, but I definitely can stand what I don't like. I have stopped drinking at times in the past and I can stop this time.

If that attempt fails to identify the B in your Three Minute Exercise (TME) try one

or more of these approaches:

1. Write a paragraph about what's bothering you.

  • What preferences are included or implied?
  • Which of your preferences are actually disguised demands? Keep in mind demands result from escalating preferences into demands.

2. Identify which of the three demands conform to this thinking. For example, your initial paragraph may look like this: "I'm scheduled to give an important speech to a large group next week. I hope I do well, impress the audience, and avoid nervousness." Then ask yourself, "Are there any implied demands in this?" For example, "I'm scheduled to give an important speech to a large group next week. I must do well, I have to impress the audience, and I have got to avoid nervousness."

Once you have identified your irrational beliefs, you are ready to proceed to disputing or questioning your irrational belief (D). To get a handle on these irrational beliefs, see "The Importance of Disputing Irrational Beliefs."


Edelstein, M.R., & Steele, D.R. (2019). Three Minute Therapy. San Francisco, CA: Gallatin House.