One of the primary strategies I use with clients is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT posits that we too often believe our own thoughts. Think about it! Our minds generate bazillions of thoughts every day. And generally, we chose to believe what we think. And most of the time, what we believe is not even true. We make decisions based on faulty beliefs. And then we’re surprised when trouble ensues.
CBT works like this (more or less):
- Something happens (this is called an Activating Event)
- I have a thought about the Event (I tell myself something)
- I have a feeling based on my thought and what I believe
- I do something based on my feeling (behavior)
Here’s the deal. We don’t have to believe our thoughts. Ninety-nine percent of the time what we believe isn’t actually true. Now, that doesn’t mean that our feelings are real. They are, but we can change the way we feel if we can change our beliefs.
Here’s an example (and one that I continually struggle with):
The Activating Event: Some jerk cuts me off in traffic, just doesn’t even look and pulls right out in front of me. And then, THEN, has the audacity to drive five miles an hour under the speed limit all the way into town!
My Thoughts: What a jerk! You idiot! Don’t you know how to drive? Don’t you know I have places to go and things to do? You must be high. Or stupid. Every driver in this town drives like they’re high.
My Belief based on my thought: Every driver is high or stupid and every driver drives as if they are stoned. Every driver is in my way and has nowhere important to go, at least not as important as what I have to go to.
My Feeling based on my Belief: Anger. Rage. An inflated sense of self-importance.
My Action: Flip them off. Gun my engine and veer dangerously around them. Tailgate.
The Result: Best case scenario, I arrive at my destination in a foul mood, grumpy and bitter, muttering about people’s terrible driving habits. Worst case scenario: I get a ticket for tailgating or, worse yet, end up rear ending someone because I can’t brake in time.
OR, I could choose to NOT believe my thoughts. Because, really. I don’t know what is going on with the person driving the vehicle in front of me. Instead of getting mad, I can pause and bring some awareness to the moment. “Pam, you do not know what is happening for that other driver. Breathe. Have some compassion. You’re okay. Breathe.”
My Feeling now? Low level agitation, dissipating into calm acceptance. Maybe they’re just learning to drive. Maybe they just did not see me. Maybe they’re tired. I can accept the humanity they just demonstrated and I can let it go (oh, trust me, I get to this point only sometimes, but I am improving with practice).
My Action: I slow down, ease my foot off the gas, and take a deep breath. Turn up the radio. Tap my fingers on the steering wheel and choose to be grateful I was paying attention to the road.
The Result: I arrive at my destination much less grumpy, much less agitated. My day is not ruined by one driver who did not see me. I save myself time and money.
I dare you to choose NOT to believe your thoughts. What is it costing you to cling tightly to faulty beliefs?