“Life, as the Buddha said twenty-four hundred years ago, isn’t but includes suffering. See it as it is, accept the good with the bad, and thereby enjoy much of it.” - Albert Ellis
At Keys to Counseling in Tampa, FL, I specialize in a specific type of therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Established by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955, REBT is an active, directive, solution-focused, and goal-oriented approach to counseling and it is recognized as the pioneering form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
As a psychotherapist and an REBT specialist, I am fascinated with the idea that our core beliefs and attitudes are the fundamental predictor of how we think, feel, and behave. All forms of CBT acknowledge the strong relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but REBT emphasizes and focuses on identifying the core beliefs responsible for determining our critical thoughts and inferences about adversities that we face, and understanding the role in which our basic attitudes towards life play within our mental, emotional, and behavioral health. For this reason, I view REBT as a philosophy for living, just as much as it is a therapeutic model.
When Albert Ellis developed REBT, he drew upon research and logic that he learned by studying psychoanalysis, behaviorism, general semantics theory, Buddhism, philosophy, and in particular stoic philosophy. Stoicism asserts that virtue (achieved through courage, justice, moderation, and logical reasoning), helps us to live in harmony with nature. This is similar to REBT, which says that non-dogmatic flexible preferences, anti-awfulizing attitudes, high frustration tolerance, and unconditional acceptance (i.e. rational and logical core beliefs) result in psychological and emotional health, and that inner tranquility is attained through the realization that we cannot rely on external events outside of our control for our mental health, happiness, and peace; rather, we can rely on that which we have the power to control, such as our attitude, perception, and responses to external circumstances and challenges. While I am by no means an expert in stoic philosophy, I try to use its principles to enhance the practice of REBT, both within my professional and personal life.
Ever since my discovery of REBT, I have achieved a deeper sense of peace and happiness within my daily life. I have learned how to quiet the outside noise of the world and to effectively manage and alleviate much of my anxiety in order to be more mindfully present, and to experience much joy, in spite of the inevitable hardships that have and will continue to arise throughout my lifetime. With that said, based upon the fundamental principles of Albert Ellis’ REBT, as well as the sage wisdom of influential stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca, I have created a list of five strategies to live more rationally in 2020 and beyond, which I strongly believe are the key to achieving and sustaining a deeper sense of happiness, peace, and purpose for the duration of our lives.
1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say.”
- Marcus Aurelius
There are many aspects of living that are uncomfortable for us to emotionally and physically address; however, ignoring these realities does not magically cause them to no longer exist. Whether we are afraid to pursue opening a business, getting into a relationship, quitting an addiction, or thinking about the inevitability of death, we can free ourselves from unhealthy anxiety and vastly improve the quality of our lives when we learn how to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Our emotional freedom is what exists on the other side of our fear. Let us empower ourselves by learning to tolerate and cope with our incredibly strong feelings of discomfort. Though we may wish never to withstand something truly difficult, it is so beneficial to imagine (and sometimes physically address) our worst-case scenarios in life, in order to learn that we truly can stand that which we once believed we could not!
2. Understand that you are responsible for your emotional and behavioral destiny
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.”
In REBT, we refer to this concept as The Principle of Emotional Responsibility. It means that each of us are responsible for our own emotional and behavioral reactions in life. While we cannot control the outside world, life circumstances, other people, and many of the inevitable challenges that will arise within our lifetime, we can learn to control the attitudes we hold in the face of adversity, whether we experience healthy or unhealthy emotions in response to hardships, and how we behave as a consequence of our life philosophy or perspective. In other words, people, life events, and adversities can contribute to our healthy emotional reactions (such as concern, sadness, annoyance, remorse, regret, disappointment, non-problematic jealousy and non-problematic envy), but they do not directly cause unhealthy emotional disturbances (such as anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame, hurt, problematic jealousy and problematic envy). REBT can teach us how to identify, dispute, and transform any core irrational beliefs that exist between an adverse situation itself and our unhealthy emotional and unhelpful behavioral reactions to the adversity.
3. Simplify your life by surrendering your demands
“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”
We can strive to improve our conditions in life, if this is something we wish to do; however, it is not helpful to demand that conditions must be absolutely perfect. We can use our strong rational preferences and desires to motivate us and help us to achieve more of what we want out of life and less of what we do not. That being said, when we irrationally demand that conditions must (should, have to, need to, or ought to) be a certain way, we begin treating our wishes as absolute needs, and this tends to result in unhealthy emotional disturbance (instead of healthy emotional dissatisfaction).
While we may not be able to change our present circumstances, we can transform the attitude we hold about them in order to improve our emotional and behavioral well-being. Consciously separating our wants from our needs can make a tremendous difference in our perspective. It is healthy to have desires and preferences, but just because we really want something does not mean that we actually need it to survive, nor does it mean that we must have it, that others should give it to us, that life circumstances ought to be fair, and that comfortable conditions have to exist. In other words, just because we strongly desire for it not to rain does not mean that it must not rain and demanding that it must not rain (something we do not have control over) will only further upset us.
4. Unconditionally accept yourself, others, and life in general
“People’s intrinsic value or worth cannot really be measured accurately because their being includes their becoming. They are a process with an ever-changing present and future.”
- Albert Ellis
Unconditional acceptance essentially means to not place any limitations or conditions on viewing ourselves, others, and life in general as valid, adequate, and fallible human beings or experiences. When we unconditionally accept ourselves, other people, and life as we/it all are, we remove conditions or barriers to qualifying the entire worth or being of someone or something, based upon one condition, such as bad behavior in a specific instance and/or a disappointing circumstance. In this way, unconditional acceptance is very different than self-esteem, because self-esteem is typically conditional, as it is reserved for when we view ourselves as doing something that can be globally evaluated as “good”. When we unconditionally accept ourselves, we do so, even when we have made mistakes, performed poorly, and aspire to do better in the future. Unconditional acceptance helps us to be more forgiving and less demanding of ourselves, others, and the world.
In REBT, to accept something is to: · Choose to acknowledge its existence
· Choose to recognize the empirical reality that all the conditions are in place for it to exist
· Choose to believe that though it is preferable for this reality not to exist, logically it is irrational to demand that it must not exist
· Choose to practically change current circumstances and resolve specific challenges IF a realistic solution is possible; when a realistic or practical solution is NOT possible, choose to cognitively and constructively adapt, as well as emotionally and behaviorally adjust in order to effectively move forward in spite of adversities that cannot be changed Acceptance in REBT does not equate to enjoying, liking, preferring, desiring, choosing, or feeling happy about whatever it is that we are trying to accept. It is not about positive or negative thinking, rather it is about rational thinking: this means pragmatically evaluating the situation with a goal of finding a solution, and resolving the problem, if possible.
5. Strive for your own happiness
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
The greatest gift we can give to ourselves in order to achieve a profound sense of happiness and inner peace is to think rationally. When we value thinking rationally, we aim to:
· Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable (push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, take calculated and responsible risks, and accept uncertainty)
· Take responsibility for our core beliefs and attitudes, our emotions, and our behaviors (focus on all that is within our power to change and cease worrying about all that is outside of our control)
· Surrender our demands (and replace them with healthy strong desires and preferences)
· Unconditionally accept ourselves, others, the uncertainty of life in general, and reality as it exists within this moment (we can strive to do better, hold others accountable, and improve life circumstances, while simultaneously accepting all imperfect conditions as they are within the present moment)
Based upon The Principle of Emotional Responsibility (discussed above), we understand that we are responsible for our own emotional and behavioral destiny, which means that we are in charge of our own happiness in life. Therefore, we can make the choice to strive for happiness, and we do so by committing to the hard work and practice that deep philosophical and psychological change requires!
In essence, let us not simply talk the rational talk, but walk the rational walk!
At Keys to Counseling in Tampa, Florida, my mission is to promote healthy living through rational thinking! I provide both individual and couples counseling, and I would be honored to cognitively, emotively, and behaviorally accompany you on your journey to living, loving, being, and staying better!