posted in: Health, Living | 0

To Change Your Behavior, Change Your Mind

“In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes,” is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. I suspect I am not the first to disagree. I believe the only certainty during life is that things will change.

Each day our lives are filled with change. Some are dramatic: diagnosis of a life-threatening disease, the sudden loss of an important relationship, an injury that forces adjustment to daily living or equipment that breaks down at a critical moment. Others are more subtle: daylight increases or decreases, an appointment takes longer than expected, clothing is tighter or looser or we become aware that recovery from illness or injury is slower than it used to be. Last, but not least, are the changes we choose: moving to a different home, remodeling a kitchen or embarking on a second or third career.

These events, whether positive or negative, are “stressors.” They trigger conscious and unconscious thoughts, emotions, and feelings and subsequently a behavior. Your response, which is based on an inner belief you may or may not be aware of, can be healthy—taking a walk, meditating, scheduling a massage, or visiting a counselor. It can also be unhealthy—overeating, obsessing, becoming self-deprecating or isolating.

The process of becoming aware of how we get from the trigger to the behavior is actually quite simple. Inner beliefs, sometimes called values, are typically acquired in childhood or as the result of life experiences. If we value health our inner belief may be that without health our life has no meaning. A sudden, severe, chronic illness might trigger the awareness or thought that life will never be the same. That thought triggers an emotion such as anger or fear or a feeling of despondency and, subsequently a behavior to ease the tension.

Sara, whose life was predicated on the above belief—that without good health life has no meaning. Last year Sara was in a traffic accident and sustained a serious injury that didn’t heal as expected. Her active lifestyle was seriously compromised. Instead of daily visits to the gym, golfing three times a week, and hiking with friends on weekends, Sara was relegated to less vigorous activities and regular visits to a physical therapist that seemed to do little to improve her mobility or relieve her pain. She soon became despondent and, ultimately, isolated—refusing invitations from friends to go dinner or a movie or take a ride through the beautiful countryside. Sara was a candidate for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis first described REBT in the mid-1950s. Since then, Ellis’s belief—that an individual’s psychological difficulties often stem from erroneous assumptions and faulty concepts of themselves and the world—has become mainstream.

REBT is a practical and action-oriented. Ellis describes it as “short-term therapy for long-term results.” REBT stimulates emotional growth by teaching people to replace currently held attitudes, painful thoughts and feelings, and self-defeating behaviors with new and more effective ones. Thoughts or statements such as, “I’ll never have a rewarding experience,” may be true for a single day. However, repeating this thought for days, weeks, or months is erroneous thinking. It can lead to a belief pattern that supports the isolation.

Another pioneering psychologist, Aaron Beck, who developed a similar approach in the 1960s, describes his work as cognitive behavior therapy. Both approaches are collaborative. Patient and therapist challenge distorted, unrealistic and unhelpful assumptions and beliefs making them more easily subject to change. Together, encouraged by the therapist’s skills, the patient identifies and attempts to change dysfunctional thinking, behavior and emotional responses. Once these thoughts are identified, underlying beliefs can be modified.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of attending a series of workshops with Ellis. I observed his use of a series of intuitive questions to uncover the expectations and personal rules that were leading to emotional distress in an individual who had unresolved anger over losing her job. Ellis used a technique he called “disputing” to help the individual reformulate her limiting beliefs into more sensible, realistic and helpful ones. Ellis didn’t dispute the anger itself—it was righteous under the circumstances. What he disputed through questioning was the underlying belief that the individual couldn’t be happy unless the person who fired her suffered as much as she had. Soon the woman acknowledged that her anger was self-defeating. I could perceive the relaxation she experienced as the stress-induced thought and feeling was tempered, setting the stage for her to move on with her life instead of dwelling on the incident. As the exercise ended she said, “This experience brings new meaning to the phrase, ‘when a door closes, a window opens.’”

More recently, like him or not, Dr. Phil McGraw has used the phrase, “How’s that working for you?” as he attempts to nudge his TV guests to overcome a self-defeating behavior. You can do this yourself by attempting to understand (writing helps) your own Stress-Belief-Thought-Feeling-Emotion-Behavior process. This includes listing the payoffs you get and the prices you pay for engaging in the behavior. After that, it’s also important to list the opportunities you miss when you choose the familiar, often unconscious, behavior pattern. Once you understand yourself, you set the stage for paying more attention to your options for healthy choices to respond and manage the inevitable stresses of life. Then you can take that road less traveled and, within minutes, experience a soaring self-esteem.

Ellis surprised me when he ended the session I attended with a saying I first heard my mother repeat when I was young, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Easier said than done? Of course it is. Changing your mind is a choice. It’s yours and it IS possible.

By: Ronda Gates

Source: Free Articles from

Comments are closed.