My mission today is to convince you, my readers, that even though we dedicate most of our energy to changing the circumstances of our lives, we would better off using most of it to change the beliefs that are causing them.
Every thought in our minds is either weak or strong, healthy or unhealthy for us. It is amazing how much energy we dedicate to strengthening each of our beliefs, whether they are healthy for us or not. This is done at a completely subconscious level. Whatever we think is an interpretation of the things around us, which we distort and delete to support our beliefs. If we think we are awesome and wonderful, we will interpret, delete and distort what is happening to us to strengthen this belief. Next time, our belief that we are awesome and wonderful will be even more solid. It is unfortunate that in the same way, if we think we are worthless and helpless, we will interpret, delete and distort what is happening to us to strengthen this belief. The thought that we are helpless and worthless gets more and more solid.
As you can see from my example, strengthening our beliefs works to our advantage only if we have healthy beliefs. It causes us discomfort and pain if we hold unhealthy ones.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was first developed by Albert Hills and Aaron Beck in the 1950s. It is a very good way to help people solve problems in their lives by helping them change emotions and behaviors through changing their belief system. CBT is a very popular therapy today. Because of this, many people seem to think it is synonymous with psychology. Which it totally is not! It is just one strategy within a tool box of skills that psychologists use and is appropriate only in certain circumstances.
I discovered CBT at the age of 16. Not that I knew what CBT was or that what I was doing was called CBT. It shifted my life dramatically, long before I studied about Hills and Beck. I did it by myself, through the tears, confusion, sadness and loneliness, without any support and knowledge of whether what I was doing was right. I think everyone can and there is no need for it to be so hard! I will summaries the techniques for you which I hope will help you feel empowered and realize you are not alone.
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy this technique is called ABCDE. It is a simple technique and if you follow it, I assure you a change will happen – and fast! This is Ronit’s simple version of it.
A: Assessment – What is happening?
Your first mission is to find out what is happening in your life. This is an assessment of the situation. You evaluate the circumstances that led you to the situation that you are not happy with. The magic question here is “what am I not happy about in my life?”. In order to change something, we need to know what it is. Remember to write it down. This is essential when dealing with thoughts and feelings.
Think of your love life, social relationships, family, financial situation, health, work or any other area. Try making a written list of the things that are not happening the way you want them to be. This list is the first ingredient on your road to happiness.
B: Belief – What is the belief associated with the situation?
Every situation in our lives is translated in some way and creates a belief. When we fall in the playground, we create a belief that walking in a certain spot in the playground means we will fall. This belief is not manifested 100% of the time, but we slowly learn that there is a risk that we might fall. The reason we create beliefs in the first place is that they are a very healthy and efficient way to survive. They prevent us from going through a process of trial and error over and over again. Sadly, sometimes we make bad beliefs. When we experience pain or discomfort that is strong enough that it requires us to go to a therapist (e.g. a coach, councilor or psychologist), we have to find the belief that is associated with it. For example, if you are in conflict with a family member, write down 10 things you think about that family member, the conflict between you, and your relationship with them. For example: “My sister is always rude to me”, “She is jealous of me”, “She is the smartest in our family”, “My parents let her do whatever she wants”, “My dad loves her the most”, etc.
C: Connect feelings to the situation – What feeling is associated?
Every event in life creates a feeling. The brain produces chemicals associated with that feeling. When we are happy, we have “happy chemicals” in our body. When we are depressed, we have “depressed chemicals” that our body produces in order to help us manage and protect us, sometimes from ourselves.
Some situations create feelings that are too strong for us to handle (or at least ones we cannot handle). It is important to recognize the relationship between a thought and the feeling it produces. If we do this enough, we can find the keys to our feelings. We can then choose when to allow external influences to have an impact on our feelings.
The third step in CBT is to find out what feelings are associated with the situation. Find out what feelings you have when you think about a particular incident, a situation you are in or a problem that you have. Use this formula: “The situation is… and I feel…”. For example, “I had a fight with my son and I feel angry/frustrated/sad/upset”.
In this part, we learn to connect the situation with our thoughts and feelings about it. Now that we have the 3 ingredients, changing our perception of one, two or all three of them will change the situation completely.
D: Doubt your beliefs – What are the doubts and how valid is the belief?
The next part of this therapy is to question the validity, the sense, the practicality, the realism and the proof of your belief.
Is it true that my sister is always rude to me? Does it make sense to expect her to think of my interests before hers? Do I know for sure that my dad loves her the most? Do I have proof that she is jealous of me? Did she ever say that?
It is very important to ask as many doubt questions as you can. By asking these questions we can understand that we are interpreting things around us in a way that makes the situation worse. For example, if you wrote, “I am not happy about my financial state”, “I believe I am not good with money”, “I hate it when I do not have the money I want to buy the things I want”, you should ask yourself, “Is it true that I am not good with money?”, “Do I have one example of being good with money?” “Is it realistic to expect me to save any spare money I have and not use it for fun?” If you ask enough questions, usually you will find that you are very cruel to yourself. You have some good abilities that you can use to make things better. This is always true because everyone has the ability to learn and develop money management skills.
The challenge with this stage of the therapy is that people must be very courageous to ask these questions. Most of them find it hard to doubt their own beliefs. They have some kind of an attachment to their beliefs. This is when external person can help (but make sure not to shoot the messenger!). If you ask a friend to help you, do not be angry with him/her when they ask the hard questions.
E: Empowerment – What can I do to change the belief?
In the last section of the therapy, you are asked to come up with a better belief to have that will make your life full of love, happiness and understanding. Here are some examples: “My sister is loving and understanding and she was worried about something that happened just before our conversation. I will try to talk to her at another time”, “It is true I did not have good financial management skills when I was a kid. That was because I was a kid and did not earn the money myself. Now I do and I can learn to manage my money. I can always ask my bank manager to help me”.
Every problem can be solved by working through ABCDE, but you need to stick to the formula. Here it is in a nutshell:
- A – Assessment of the situation: the facts
- B – Beliefs associated with the situation
- C – Connect between the feeling and the belief
- D – Doubt your unhealthy beliefs
- E – Empower yourself with better belief
Happiness is a choice and it is as easy and simple to reach as ABCDE. Try it and see.