The following article looks at "demanding" and "preferring". Understanding the difference between these types of irrational and rational thinking is key to Mental Toughness. Demands are rigid thinking patterns and rules, where we insist that others, the world and ourselves must be a certain way, in order for us to be happy. Albert Ellis, who pioneered Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), called this rigid thinking "demandingness".

Demands are rigid and inflexible rules about how other people, ourselves and life must or must not be, in order for us to be happy. Having rigid beliefs and rules can make us anxious, frustrated and depressed. Demands will often contain the words "must" and "should", such as:

"Everyone must like and approve of me".
"I must be absolutely competent in everything I do".
"The world should always be a fair place".

Preferences are flexible ideas regarding how we would like things to be, without demanding and insisting that they must always be that way, such as:

"It would be nice if everyone liked and approved of me, but they don't have to".
"I want to be competent in everything I do, but I don't have to be."
"I would like the world to be a fair place, but unfortunately it doesn't have to be the way, that I want it to be".

Having preferences rather than demands does not mean that we shouldn't have high values or standards; the point is whether our demands are pragmatic and helping us in our aims and objectives, or are rigid, unrealistic and impractical. The key is to be flexible and accept that people and things will not always go our way and that having rigid and fixed rules is unhelpful and irrational.

Here's an example regarding perfectionism. Let's suppose that I have a demanding rule that "I must give an absolutely, perfect presentation or I will look hopeless and inept". If I hold on to this irrational belief, the consequences are likely to be that I will be unnecessarily anxious, and my worry will cause me to lose sleep. I will over-prepare and have too many notes, which will cause further worry as to how I will cram all the material into a set presentation time. I will be over-nervous and worry that I will freeze and my mind will go blank. I may predict catastrophe, attach too much importance to the presentation and imagine I will lose my job.

Alternatively, I can hold a preference such as "I would like to do a perfect presentation, but it does not have to be 100 per-cent perfect". In this case I am more likely to focus on covering the essential points rather than worrying about trying to be perfect, and further realise that there is no such thing as a "perfect" presentation. And besides, it is unrealistic to expect that all of the audience will be paying attention, all of the time. If the audience are students, it is likely that they will have hangovers or be tired.

Here's another example for anyone visiting or living in London and using the Tube trains; where we are expected to let passengers off of the train before boarding. If I have the demand that "people must always let me off the train first, before they start getting on" then I am going to be upset and annoyed on a regular basis, as often people will start getting on in order to get a seat. Of course, a lot of the time people will wait for me to get off, before they get on, but because I have such a rigid and demanding rule, I will still feel tense in the anticipation that my rule will be broken at any second.

Alternatively, rather than have such a rigid and demanding rule, I can hold a preference such as "I would prefer it if people let me off first, but in reality this will not always be so". By holding a preference rather than a demand, I am being realistic and can accept that others do not have the same rules. By holding a flexible preference I am less likely to become angry or upset.

Often we seek to change other people and become frustrated in our attempts, however we can change ourselves and how we react to other people and events; we can remain in control and fully responsible for our actions, thoughts and emotions.

Being flexible and able to adapt is key to Mental Toughness.


Phil Pearl MCH

Author's Bio: 

Phil Pearl DCH DHP MCH GHR Reg

Phil Pearl, clinical hypnotherapist specialising in mental toughness and resilience - helping people to improve their confidence, self-esteem and overcome anxiety and stress. Hypnotherapy in London
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