(From: Three Minute Therapy, Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, by Michael R. Edelstein with David Ramsay Steele. Published by Glenbridge Publishing Ltd., available at Amazon..com, Barnes & Noble. com, and direct from Glenbridge.)

Your feelings come from your thinking. This doesn’t mean that if you tell yourself everything is fine and you have no problems, then you will feel fine and your problems will disappear. The Three Minute Therapy method does not recommend “thinking positively,” telling yourself to cheer up, or fondly dwelling on comfortable images that everything is wonderful.

The advice glibly offered to emotional sufferers — “Worrying doesn’t do any good, so why worry?” — is usually of little help because the anxious person doesn’t know how to stop worrying. Such a person has a definite system of beliefs, which has become a fixed dogma, and which automatically generates distress. Without attacking and changing that system of beliefs, there will probably be little progress in reducing anxiety. But the sufferer doesn’t think much about the system of beliefs, doesn’t consider that the beliefs might be questionable, and doesn’t notice how the beliefs lead to counterproductive and self-destructive behavior.

To start on the path to healthy thought patterns, it’s first necessary to identify the sufferer’s system of beliefs. This isn’t a lengthy process of excavating “unconscious” memories. Usually a few minutes of asking simple questions will elicit a person’s faulty thinking. If someone asks you whether you have a belief about the persistence of physical objects, you will probably be puzzled and hesitate to give a definite reply, or you may even reply in the negative. However, you don’t pay much attention to the possibility that the chair you are sitting on will suddenly vanish, causing you to painfully bruise your buttocks on the floor. In this sense, you do indeed subscribe to a belief in the persistence of physical objects, and this belief determines your behavior. In this case, of course, the belief is broadly true.

In the same way, the beliefs responsible for emotional problems are often deeply-rooted, unconsidered assumptions. And these beliefs are false. Fortunately, when we wish to identify these beliefs, we start with an advantage. We already have a good idea, on the basis of the theories of Albert Ellis, and the experience of thousands of therapists employing his method, of the mistaken beliefs many people hold.

Such beliefs show a common pattern. They take the form of demands — “musts” or “shoulds.” For instance, a person faced with a public speaking assignment may believe that he MUST not look foolish in public, and that to do so would be TERRIBLE. While it’s reasonable not to want to look foolish in public, it’s harmful to demand that this be guaranteed not to occur. Thus the first step in curing public speaking anxiety is to accept, fully and without reservation, that nothing can possibly give you an ironclad guarantee that you will not look foolish in public. You may possibly look foolish in public — to do so would be unfortunate, but not terrible.

The beliefs that give people emotional problems are evaluative beliefs. Virtually all emotion comes from evaluative thinking. Thus, if you just make a simple observation you will not feel emotion.

Let’s consider a statement such as “Jake admires me.” That’s an assertion of fact only. By itself it does not spawn feelings. But if you add an evaluation, then you produce an emotion. For example: “I like Jake admiring me.” “I love Jake admiring me.” “I dislike Jake admiring me.” “I loathe Jake admiring me.”

The strength of any “like” exists on a scale of 0 percent to 99.9 percent. (You can never prefer something at the 100 percent level because no matter how strongly you desire it, theoretically you could always yearn for it even more.)

If you prefer to be admired by Jake only slightly (at the 10 percent level, say) you will feel mildly pleased that he’s admiring you and mildly displeased should he despise you. If, on the other hand, you prefer it at the 90 percent level, you will feel rather great when Jake admires you and greatly disappointed if he doesn’t. Thus preferences create emotions. Since the preferences are based on a scale from 0 percent to 99.9 percent, appropriate or reasonable emotions come from preferences.

On the other hand inappropriate or unreasonable emotions come from demands rather than preferences. What we call “demands” consist of magical, absolutistic, moralistic notions, and take the form of “musts” and “shoulds.” For example: “Jake absolutely MUST admire me and it would be awful if he doesn’t?”

“Musts” and “shoulds” lead to dysfunctional emotions — emotions that eat away at you, such as anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, and self-pity. Demandingness also leads to self-defeating behaviors such as procrastination, violence, and addictions, including alcoholism, substance abuse, overeating, gambling, and compulsive shopping.

The key to the Three Minute Therapy method is that it’s perfectly rational and generally helpful to have preferences, especially quite strong preferences, but it’s irrational and harmful to turn these preferences into demands or “musts.” The majority of emotional problems arise because individuals believe that something or other MUST be, or not be. For example: “I MUST do well at school” (instead of “I PREFER to do well at school”); “I MUST not feel anxious” (instead of “It’s UNFORTUNATE that I sometimes feel anxious”)’ or My spouse MUST not behave coldly toward me” (instead of “I find it UNPLEASANT when my spouse behaves coldly toward me”).

You’ll want to read Three Minute Therapy, apply the exercises, and eliminate your “musts” and “shoulds.”

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Michael Edelstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Francisco and has served as a Fellow and Supervisory Faculty Member of the Institute for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. He was honored upon release of his book, Three Minute Therapy with the NACBT Author of the Year Award. He has appeared on radio and TV across the US as well as in the news. For more information on his book, Three Minute Therapy please visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0944435424 and http://www.glenbridgepublishing.com/.