Today, is February 14th; Valentine’s Day, the day for lovers, the day for romance, the day for card companies, florists, chocolatiers, jewellers, and restaurants up and down the country to make you make the most of this day, come what may. Back in the day (my day, that is) you were lucky if you got a small card and a cup of tea in bed. Now, it’s nothing but pressure to perform, please and be more loved-up than thou (we can partly blame social media for the latter, but only partly). Basically, Valentine’s Day has gone and gotten all a bit crazy, when you think about it.
But then, love is not the most rational of emotions.
Enter then, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Not only is it a form of psychotherapy but it is also considered to be a school of thought. This means that, while it is great for dealing with specific emotional problems such as anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and so on, it is also (and at the same time) a brilliant way of looking at life and all of life’s problems in a whole new way.
This is important as irrationality surrounds us and penetrates us (a bit like The Force in Star Wars only crap), and it can bind us together in unhelpful ways if we are not careful.
With it, we can develop the tendency to blow things out of proportion, magnify their difficulty, throw our toys out of the pram and, generally, rush headlong into foolish decisions that we later regret.
REBT offers a way of stepping back a little, and of questioning a thought and the emotion it engenders, before you react (or overreact) according to it.
Once you start to question the validity and rationality of your thoughts, you will soon start to see just how silly life, and by default, our everyday language really is. Like, really, amazingly, off-kilter crazy.
This goes double for love songs.
To find out how truly ludicrous love songs actually are, to wise up to their irrationality, please read my new post over at Psychology Today (click here).
As you do so, whilst remembering that Valentine’s Day can be as restrained or as OTT as you allow it to become, it means that you can still be as romantic as you wish, but it also means you won’t be no fool for love (or any other emotion) again.
How’s that for heart-warming?
Each year, a friend of mine, when wishing family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances a “Happy New Year,” almost always follows it up with the rather dour postface of “let’s hope it’s better than the last one.” Sometimes they even run through some of the lower points from their preceding 12 months.
It’s not surprising that they do that as most human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. It’s biological and innate; it’s hardwired into us. It’s habitual. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It’s possible to build a habit of thinking more positively, even if you’re currently the most negative person you know.
Positive psychology contains a vast range of tools, exercises, tips and tricks to help you do just that. Whereas most forms of psychotherapy focus on mental illness, positive psychology firmly fixes its gaze on mental wellness. “What can be done to make you feel happier and more fulfilled in your day-to-day life?” it asks. “How can you learn to flourish?”
One of its many, many laboratory tested exercises (i.e., a bunch of researchers have made people undertake these things and then rated their mood and physiology in a variety of ways) is one specifically designed to help you reflect upon events in a more positive way. And it does so by getting you to review the day, or the week, or even the month.
On a bad day, something nice will have happened (but it’s usually the bad thing you focus on) and, on a rotten week, several good things will also have happened (but it’s usually the rotten things that you reflect upon). But, by ignoring the bad in favour of good, despite your natural inclination, by writing them down in a diary or notebook, you are slowly and steadily building that habit of thinking more positively.
But, what does this mean for the new year and your happiness? Well, why not review your whole year? News and current affairs (and pop music) shows do it all the time.
So, another positive psychology exercise builds on the above by asking you to get hold of a bell jar, or some such similar receptacle. And, for a sense of occasion it asks that you get it in time for New Year’s Day. Then, over the coming 12 months, whenever something nice happens, you write that event or situation down on a piece of paper and pop it into the bell jar.
Note by note, nice thing by nice thing, into the jar it goes. A compliment here, a bonus there; a trip on a sunny day, a night out with friends, you name it. Large or small, any and all events go in the jar. And then, on New Year’s Eve next year, you can gather around the jar with family and friends, or simply on your own if you enjoy being solitary and introspective, and then reflect on what a lovely year you’ve had.
“Happy New Year,” you’ll say. “I hope it’s as good as this one was.”
You’re not denying that bad things have happened; you’re just choosing to ignore them for once, in favour of the good.
Won’t that be nice?
So, I wrote a book. It’s available to buy right now as you’re reading this and it would be awfully remiss of me if I didn’t blog about my book in my own actual blog so, here it is.
It’s called The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up (and how to fix them) and it’s a hopefully humorous and insightful (I leave that for you to decide) book about rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT).
REBT was invented in the mid 1950s by a psychotherapist called Albert Ellis. It’s actually considered to be the first form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to be developed. And it’s brilliant.
REBT is the form of CBT that I practice and promote. It follows the philosophy that it is not the events in life that disturb you, but what you tell yourself about those events that disturbs you. So if you are thinking, feeling and acting in ways that you don’t like, but don’t seem to be able to change, it’s not because of the thing, but down to what you tell yourself about the thing, change what it is that you tell yourself and you get to change how you think, feel and act.
Now, it’s not saying when stuff happens, that it doesn’t have an influence, because it does but, it’s only an influence. So, even in the face of something difficult, or challenging, or downright negative, you can still remain in control (or regain control if you think you’ve lost it) by looking at what you tell yourself in the face of that difficult, challenging or negative thing.
This means that nobody makes you angry, nothing makes you anxious, and nobody and nothing can drive you to drink, drugs, distraction, despair or doughnuts. It’s what you tell yourself about those things and people that does that.
REBT says that there is always a thing (or an activating event) and a reaction to that thing (a consequence) but, between the thing and the reaction there will be a specific thought process (known as a belief) that drive the reaction about the thing.
So, REBT is all about beliefs. My book is all about the four beliefs that REBT says lie at the heart of psychological disturbance (i.e., that f*ck you up) and the four healthy equivalents that can help keep you calm and rational. It also has a step-by-step guide to help you work on a specific problem
Someone recently asked me why I wrote it. That answer could be a whole blog in itself but, briefly, I’ve been in practice now for over 15 years and just for once, when I was finishing therapy with someone and they asked if there is any reading material I could suggest, I wanted to be able to say, “why yes, there is this very book right here.”
And now I can.
It’s available on Amazon and Waterstones and WHSmith, or directly from the Penguin Random House website and it’s available from all good online bookshops in your country, area and/or territory (so it’s not just available in the UK).
I am reliably informed that it is both “super-wise” and “warm and funny.” And it wasn’t my friends that said that. It would make for a good Christmas stocking filler, or last-minute Christmas gift idea. And for those of you looking a little further ahead, it would be a great way of coming up with and sticking to any one of a number of New Year’s resolutions.
If you haven’t bought it yet, I hope you consider buying a copy. If you have already bought one, I thank you for doing so. And, either way, I hope you will enjoy it, are enjoying it and/or have enjoyed it.
Personally, as much as I enjoyed writing it, I will never forget the thrill of standing in the WHSmith bookshop in Paddington station on the day of publication and seeing out on the shelves already.
All the feels.