Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 2 ed.

Chapter 10. Developing a Healthy Philosophy of Balance

What is it that we are all looking for when we set goals and strive to achieve them? We are all seeking happiness. Happiness comes in many forms, including the feelings of confidence, satisfaction, calmness, relaxation and comfort. These are the emotions we want to feel. When we eat, exercise, work, get praised, challenge ourselves, or do something that benefits someone else, we are achieving a goal that triggers positive feelings. When we achieve what we want in life, the result is happiness.

The emphasis is on the ‘want’ and not the ‘need’. Striving for your desires and preferences without needing them is the key to achieving your goals and feeling happy. When you turn your desires and wants into ‘need’, ‘must’, ‘should’, and ‘have to’, this is the point when you coerce. This is like doing something with your hands tied together, or feeling that you are being pushed into something and if you don't do it, something terrible will happen. Coerciveness caused by this attitude triggers anxiety and fear. Letting go of ‘needing to’ or ‘having to’ turns the energy into personal motivation.

Changing your beliefs, attitudes and philosophy of life in this way means you become free because it turns actions and goals into choices: your personal choice. As you begin to think and believe that you are living your life in accordance with your personal choice, you set yourself up for more success and happiness. In a nutshell, happiness becomes a choice.

Because happiness can be triggered by your own achievements and actions, it is within your control. It can also be triggered by events that are outside your control, for example winning the lottery or receiving an inheritance. However, if you wait for happiness that is triggered by events outside your control, you could be waiting a long time. Happiness that is triggered by your achievements and work is much more attainable. The key to this type of happiness is achievement supported by healthy beliefs that focus you on your wants and desires in a motivating and positive way, rather than by beliefs that push and coerce you into striving to achieve a goal through fear and anxiety.

We all like to be in a state of comfort as opposed to discomfort. This can be tricky because achieving goals requires you to do the work now in order to succeed later. Naturally this means that working and putting in effort is essential. This may feel uncomfortable at first.

If you focus only on achieving future goals, constantly working and putting in lots of effort, you will not feel very happy in the here and now. This will result in more stressful feelings. A philosophy of healthy balance is necessary so that you can experience happiness and enjoyment in the short term while you are working towards long-term goals.

image

Short-Term Comfort

It is easy to understand why you want to be in a state of comfort as opposed to discomfort. Comfort feels good. From an early age children are looked after, fed, clothed and soothed. Neglect, on the other hand, causes pain and harm. You grow up knowing that there are certain things you can do or have others do for you that encourage feelings of comfort.

If as a child you feel uncomfortable or fearful, your parents will look after you and remove the object of fear. You grow up learning that if you avoid something that provokes fear your feelings of fear will remain. If as a child the object of fear is not removed then you can traumatize yourself and grow up fearful. This is why children need to be nurtured and looked after.

This can also be a source of problems for adults. Emotional maturity will not be accomplished if the adult continues to engage in the same childhood strategies of either avoiding things that trigger feelings of discomfort, or having a need for others to make life comfortable. You may be giving in to comfort-seeking short-term strategies at the expense of your long-term gains and goals.

Functioning on short-term comfort leads to problems because maturity and future goal achievements require you to deal with discomfort, take responsibility, and put in effort to learn new things, get on with people you may not like, and do mundane tasks, as well as dealing with failure.

It can be very helpful to reflect on your attitudes to living and achieving by checking your thoughts and behaviour. If you are operating on short-term comfort you may rid yourself of feelings of discomfort by avoidance, use of alcohol or drugs, procrastination and a reliance on others to make life easy for you. You feel very uncomfortable when you are required to do things for yourself, to put in effort and hard work. You may get angry and sulk when people do not do things for you to make life easy. If your focus is short-term comfort, long-term goals will be very tough to achieve. Commitment and personal responsibility may be lacking in many areas because you may have a need for life to be easy. And since life is not easy and comfortable, you feel frustration towards life and other people who are not making your life easy.

The following are some examples of unhealthy beliefs that create short-term comfort-seeking strategies:

·        I have to be comfortable and not uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is terrible, I can't stand it.

·        Life must be easy for me. I can't stand the fact that life is hard. I am unlucky. Poor me.

·        People must make life easy for me. It's terrible that they don't. I can't tolerate that.

·        If I do anything about changing my life, it will be difficult, and will mean that I will always experience hardship – and I MUST not because that would be awful and unbearable.

Exercise

Lucy is depressed about her weight problem and has tried every diet she has heard of. She gets very angry and frustrated when she reads about how celebrities lose a lot of weight easily. She thinks life is very unfair and feels pity for herself. Whenever she attempts to eat healthily, little and often, and attempts to exercise, her heart sinks and she gives up. She rationalizes her behaviour by saying that she doesn't enjoy exercising and finds it boring so that's why she stops. ‘If only I enjoyed exercising then I would exercise and wouldn't have a problem’, is a typical expression. She also says that she cannot control herself because chocolate is her weakness. ‘My will-power just goes out of the window’, is another favourite expression. As a consequence of her failure to lose the extra weight she has become depressed and sees herself as a total failure.

Breaking the Problem Down

Lucy has mixed emotions of depression, anger and anxiety. The anxiety, experienced as discomfort and frustration, is avoided by giving up the healthy eating pattern and the exercise.

Her behaviour is avoidant in that she does not maintain her healthy eating. She gives it up and gives in to her immediate sense of gratification by having chocolate as and when she pleases. She also gives up on exercise because she finds it boring. Her intolerance of boredom and lack of enjoyment result in giving up easily.

Her thoughts justify her short-term comfort-seeking beliefs. She thinks that in order to exercise she should really enjoy it and not find it boring. She thinks that she cannot resist chocolate. She has angry thoughts and thinks that life is unfair. She tends to pity herself. She judges herself rather than judging her behaviour and attitude. She judges herself in an unhealthy way by seeing herself as a failure because she has failed to lose weight.

The result of such short-term comfort-seeking beliefs is that she is overweight and gripped in this self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lucy's unhealthy first belief about discomfort

1.     Belief 1 – I must have what I fancy (chocolate) whenever I want. I can't tolerate not having what I fancy when I want.

2.     Work out Lucy's Belief 2 and Belief 3 from the diagram below:

A

B

C

Trigger

Belief

Consequence

Seeing chocolate

B1

Emotion: Anxiety

Behaviour: Eats chocolate

Thought: I can't stop myself

Symptom: Overweight

Not feeling instant enjoyment when exercising

B2

Emotion: Anxiety

Behaviour: Gives up

Thought: I'm not enjoying this so what's the point?

Symptom: Overweight

Boredom

B3

Emotion: Anxiety

Behaviour: Gives up

Thought: I'll talk to someone instead of exercising

Symptom: Overweight

Lucy's unhealthy beliefs about life

Emotion – anger and frustration with life

1.     Belief 1 – It's so unfair that other people manage to lose weight. I must lose weight easily like the people I read about. Life is not fair and it should be fair. I can't stand that life is unfair.

The following is the ABC chain for the above belief.

A

B

C

Trigger

Belief

Consequence

Seeing a picture of skinny celebrity in magazine

B1

Emotion: Anger

Behaviour: Sulk and throw magazine on the floor and go and eat instead

   

Thought: It's so unfair. Life is bad

Symptom: Overweight

Lucy's unhealthy beliefs about her failure to lose weight

Emotion – depression

1.     Belief 1 – I have failed at losing weight and I should succeed at losing weight. Failing proves I'm a failure.

The following is the ABC chain for the above belief.

A

B

C

Trigger

Belief

Consequence

Noticing the fact she's overweight

B1

Emotion: Depression

Behaviour: Eat more and abstain from going to the gym

   

Thought: I'm ugly and useless

Symptom: Overweight

Identify why the beliefs are unhealthy

1.     Are they consistent or inconsistent with reality? Why?

2.     Do they make sense? Are they logical or illogical? Why?

3.     Are they helpful or unhelpful? Do they help or hinder her? Why?

Changing her beliefs requires a change in understanding. Lucy has to understand that in order to lose weight she has to stay focused on her goal and not give in to instant gratification. She has to understand that she can learn to enjoy exercising even though in the short term it will feel boring and not very enjoyable. She has to understand that in order to lose weight she has to give up her short-term, comfort-seeking beliefs and adopt an attitude of long-term gain, that is no pain, no gain (or no weight loss). Once Lucy has understood the healthy solution to her problem, she will need to think in accordance with the healthy versions of her current beliefs, and start taking action that fits with those beliefs. In essence, Lucy will start applying what she now understands.

Long-Term Gain

It is easy to understand why you want to strive to fulfil your dreams and goals. As children we daydream about how we want the future to be. Maybe you saw yourself as a sports star, a doctor, or married with your own children. As you grow up you start striving for those future ambitions and imagine yourself enjoying that achievement and the rewards it brings.

As an adult, pursuing long-term goals can become the sole focus. You may find yourself always working towards something. Working towards goals can become a way of living, and work begins to dominate your life in an unhealthy way.

When you work towards your long-term goals at the expense of all other important parts of your life, problems can arise. You can experience emotional problems like anxiety, depression and lack of joy, and health problems caused by eating the wrong things, drinking too much or lack of exercise. There may also be family, relationship or friendship issues. If you know that your long-term focus is finite and that you will introduce a balance in your life, provided your family and friends are supportive you may not experience any problems. However, if you are experiencing problems because you are focused on long-terms goals at the expense of other important things in your life, it may be appropriate to reflect on your strategy and evaluate it.

When you work in accordance with your long-term strategies alone, you probably work late and at weekends and choose work commitments instead of social or family ones. If this approach is relentlessly maintained over a long period of time, you will feel comfortable when you are working and feel uncomfortable when you are relaxing, having fun and engaging in short-term leisure activities. You will find yourself thinking about work and what you have to do. Not only will you be stressed when you accept social invitations, but your friends will also feel the strain.

It is useful to reflect on whether you are focusing on your long-term goals in a dysfunctional way. You will know this is the case if your spouse, partner or friends have been complaining about it, or you may feel uncomfortable whenever you socialize, feeling that you should be working.

You may also feel anger and resentment towards the people who are close to you because you think they are putting too much pressure on you to spend more time with them.

Balance

In the previous two sections you were introduced to the notion of short-term comfort and long-term gain. You learned that if your beliefs are about a need for short-term comfort, fun and enjoyment, you will find it very difficult to achieve goals. The failure to achieve goals can then trigger other emotional problems. You will know how to have fun and do things that instantly gratify your desires, but you will be chasing this state of comfort as a priority. This in turn will lead you to give up on your long-term goals because long-term goals require you to commit to them, to put in effort and to work at them in a consistent manner.

You now understand that all work and no play can also lead to emotional and relationship problems. You can see that working towards the long term implies sacrificing other things. If you are happy to do that, it is your choice, but if this long-term gain focus is triggering emotional and relationship problems and you are not feeling happy, you may need to introduce a balance. In this case you will need to have some short-term comfort strategies.

The balance is about healthy short-term comfort strategies and healthy long-term gain focus. To bring this about you will need to reflect on the things that matter to you and bring them back into your awareness, by focusing and actively doing something about it. It requires you to change your currently held unhealthy beliefs into their healthy versions.

Fallibility

As human beings, we are all fallible and imperfect. The results are that we will make mistakes, get things wrong, misunderstand, fail and experience disappointment and frustrations. Given this truth, how do you think we should respond to our fallibilities? You can, of course, get irrationally angry, anxious, frustrated, depressed and behave in accordance with your emotions. Does that help your search for happiness in either the short or long term? In reality it results in misery and unhappiness, and you end up tackling things in a way that limits what you can achieve. In many instances it causes you to sabotage the things you want and desire.

Accepting your human imperfection frees you to think in a constructive and positive way. It enables you to be goal-directed, opening you up to learn and find creative solutions when you do mess things up. Acceptance of fallibility is the opposite to being stuck. It does not mean that by accepting your imperfection you somehow excuse it and justify inaction. As long as your goal is significant to you, you learn to do things better and develop a healthy attitude to it.

I was told a story about a hardworking schoolgirl who was a high achiever. Her teachers noticed that her grades were getting worse. She was getting very worried about making mistakes, to such an extent that she began to make more mistakes. Her confidence in her own abilities was diminishing. After some time her teachers decided to mention this to her parents. Her parents did not want to put pressure on her by telling her, and decided to demonstrate how making mistakes is not the end of the world. They wanted to show her that when people make mistakes they can respond in a different way by accepting it, expressing disappointment, thinking about what they could learn and how to move on. They wanted to prove that she could learn from her mistakes without putting herself down and not view making mistakes as a catastrophe. Without telling her what they were going to do, they planned a whole weekend of making mistakes. They pretended to receive news about failures, then dealt with it all in a healthy and positive way, expressing feelings of disappointment and talking about what to do about it. They also involved her in some of the things they had planned and made sure that she witnessed them making mistakes. After that weekend, her teachers reported a change in her attitude. She was not anxious, instead showing healthy frustration and disappointment, coming up with solutions and talking about what she would do next time a similar thing happened.

Summary

Goal achievement depends mainly on your attitude. According to CBT, healthy and rational beliefs enable you to achieve your goals and unhealthy, irrational beliefs sabotage them. In essence, if you are not achieving your goals, and are feeling unhealthy negative emotions like anxiety and depression, your current reality is supported by unhealthy beliefs that are keeping you stuck in this state. Your goal, which is the vision you have about how you want to be and what you want to achieve, needs to be supported by a different set of beliefs – the healthy or rational beliefs that provoke you to experience well-being and enable your success.

I, you, the world

The beliefs you hold can be split into three areas: I, you, and the world. You can have unhealthy beliefs about yourself, another person or about the world or life in general. Alternatively, you can hold healthy beliefs about yourself, another person or the world. It is useful to remember that no one has purely unhealthy or healthy beliefs. We all have a mixture of both, so we may have unhealthy beliefs about work but healthy ones about friendships.

When you think about unhealthy and healthy beliefs you can understand that emotional disturbance is largely caused by unhealthy beliefs. There are potentially 12 types of belief as the following table illustrates:

 

Must

Awful

Unbearable

Worthless

I

I must have xyz

If I don't have xyz it's awful

If I don't have xyz it's unbearable

If I don't have xyz I am worthless

You

You must xyz

It's awful if you don't

It's unbearable if you don't

You are worthless

The world

The world must xyz

It's awful when it doesn't

It's unbearable when it doesn't

The world is worthless

Healthy beliefs are finite. They balance the unhealthy concepts above by bringing reality to them, as illustrated below:

 

Prefer but accept that it might not be

Bad but not awful

Difficult but bearable

Imperfect but worthwhile

I

I prefer to have xyz but I accept that I might not

If I don't have xyz it would be bad but not awful

If I don't have xyz it would be difficult but bearable

If I don't have xyz I am fallible but worthy

You

It would be good if you did xyz but you don't have to

It's bad but not awful if you don't

It's difficult but bearable if you don't

You are fallible but worthy

The world

It would be good if the world was xyz but I accept that sometimes it isn't

It's bad but not awful when it isn't

It's difficult but bearable when it isn't

The world is imperfect but worthwhile

Understanding

Changing beliefs requires you to understand that they trigger feelings, thoughts, behaviours and symptoms. First you need to understand what your unhealthy beliefs provoke you to think, do and feel, and then what their healthy versions would result in.

Apply what you understand

The next step is to apply your understanding consistently, even daily, with energy and a sense of forcefulness. You need to stop thinking and acting in accordance with your unhealthy beliefs in the here and now and start thinking and behaving in accordance with your healthy beliefs. This is when you will feel tension and discomfort but, as you know, this is necessary because you are changing old and unhealthy thinking and behavioural habits. You cannot make long-lasting change if you understand what needs to be done and don't do it because it feels difficult.

Tolerating tension

The tension you experience can be tolerated more easily if you focus on your goal and the personal benefits it brings. The reasons that remind you of why you are making this change are called the ‘what's in it for me’ reasons. Your goal and your ‘what's in it for me’ reasons should be at the forefront of your mind so you think and remind yourself of them daily to keep you motivated.

Momentum

Maintaining the process of change in a consistent way is key. It is important that you keep the momentum going. This requires thinking differently, doing things differently, repeating and keeping going until you arrive at your goal or until your feelings change. Imagine, for example, that you are driving a steam train. You need to keep putting enough coal in to keep it going towards its destination. It will help you to keep going if you see your work on your healthy beliefs in that way, so that you understand that you will need to keep at it until you arrive at where you want to be in terms of emotional change.

It is likely that you will face obstacles along the way as you are pursuing your goals. It is important that you do not take your eye off your goal but find a way around each obstacle in turn. As you make progress, the kinds of obstacle you deal with will change. As you become more successful, you will have different kinds of problems from the ones that arose when you started. For example, at one time you were worried about how to develop your business, now you are worried about the conflict you are having with your suppliers. Viewing the latter problem as a sign of progress will remind you that you have moved on from the past.

Accepting fallibility

Lastly, remember that you are fallible and this means you will experience failure and disappointment. The attitude you take to these likely eventualities is what will keep you healthy and happy in the long term.

Summary of the CBT process of change and goal accomplishment

image

This book has provided you with the information and constructive tools to help you work in accordance with the laws of nature and in a way that is consistent with reality. The aim is to help you strive for excellence and long-term happiness.

Be mindful of lapsing into the old but familiar habits of thinking and behaving. A lapse is a minor occurrence and is very common. Two steps forward, and occasionally one step back. Use the concepts in this book to deal with minor lapses. This ensures continued progress. If, however, you do not deal with minor lapses as and when they occur, you will be at risk of a relapse. A relapse is a significant return to the state you were in when you experienced your problem. You can of course deal with a relapse in the same way, but it is far easier to deal with minor lapses.


Previous
Page
Next
Page