Learning rational thinking

Rational thinking is realistic thinking, not simply positive thinking. Sometimes ‘positive’ thoughts can be irrational and leave a person feeling just as down. For example, ‘This time I will succeed. It’ll be different to every other time’.
Such a self-instruction is irrational as it sets up unrealistic expectations that will only lead to feelings of failure and despair if things don’t work out. Of course, we should all allow for faults, mistakes, bad moods and unpleasant feelings over the course of an ordinary day. The trick is not to let such feelings overcome us.
The way we talk to ourselves influences the way we feel and behave. For example, ‘I feel upset about what just happened, but I won’t let myself dwell on it’ instead of, ‘oh no! How can I face the rest of the day after this! I’m too upset to work. Today is a disaster’. People who continually tell themselves ‘I can’t cope ‘ will end up believing it. This will prevent them from learning new ways of coping.
Here are some of the common irrational beliefs that can have a very negative effect on thought patterns.
• It is essential that people think are important to me should like/love/approve of me all the time. If they don’t, it must mean that I’m bad/worthless.
• I must be good at what I do and always try to improve myself.
• Some people are bad/wicked/evil and I should be very upset by their behavior.
• It is a total disaster if things don’t work out the way I want.
• Fate/destiny controls us. We have little to do with causing our own sorrows or unhappiness.
• If something is, or may be, dangerous or frightening, I must be concerned about it and worry about it happening to me.
• If things are too hard it’s better to avoid them than fail.
• We must have others to rely on. We all need someone stronger than ourselves in order to cope with life.
• What happened in my past will always affect me-both now and in the future.
• I should be very upset and dwell on other people’s problems and crises if I really care for them.
Changing the way we think, by being aware of our thoughts, involves three stages:
Anticipation-before the event.
Reaction-during the event.
Analysis-after the event.
How someone looks forward to an activity is very important in laying the groundwork for their emotional response. For example, if an invitation to a party brings an emotional response such as, ‘I won’t know anyone there. I’ll look so stupid’, then negative thinking has to be stopped before it starts. It is completely self-defeating. More self-encouraging statements would be: ‘I might find the party a bit of a strain but I’ll get myself a drink and stand in the kitchen. 1 might be able to offer some food around and get to talk to people that way.’
Self-talk in any situation will make a difference to the way someone copes. Negative thoughts after an event will make it harder to face that activity in future. Develop the habit of thinking logically rather than emotionally. For example: ‘I’m shy at parties, but they are an important part of meeting people. What can 1 do to cope better? Which “bits” worry me most?’