Events Don’t Upset You — Your Beliefs Do
We all like a bit of ancient wisdom. But how many of us have actually read any of the Classics? How ancient wisdom, the Stoics and Albert Ellis can help you
The funny thing is, we’re more likely to live happier lives if we visit the classics section of the book store than the self-help aisle. So, if we don’t read the classics, how can we learn what one group of brilliant dead blokes —The Stoics — had to say? Well, let’s have a go…
Events Don’t Upset You — Beliefs Do
So, you get dumped by someone you’re totally in love with. Feel sad? Yes. The world feels like it’s going to end. I think we’ve all been there… Let’s move on… Same scenario, but afterwards you find out that person was actually a psychopath who killed their last three partners. Feel sad you got dumped? No, you’re thrilled…
So, clearly getting dumped isn’t the important issue here. What’s changed? Actually, nothing other than your beliefs.
If you lose your job and you believe it was a lousy job anyway, and you also believe it won’t be hard for you to get a better job, you’re likely not going to be too bothered.
However, if you believe it was the greatest job ever and believe you’ll never get another one that good — you’re devastated. Emotions aren’t random. They follow from beliefs.
So, let’s move on to the Stoics. They believed there are no good or bad events, there’s only perception. Shakespeare put it well when he said: “Nothing is either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” What Shakespeare and the Stoics are saying is that the world around us is indifferent, it is objective. The Stoics are saying: “This happened to me,” is not the same as, “This happened to me and that’s bad.” They’re saying if you stop at the first bit, you will be much more resilient and much more able to make some good out of anything that happens to you.
Does this sound too simple? Well, yes, actually it is that simple. But this philosophy is what led renowned psychologist Albert Ellis to develop Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (or REBT) which was the first form of the more-widely known Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) pioneered by Aaron Beck and now well accepted as one of the most effective treatments for depression, anxiety and other disorders, including disordered eating.
Most Bad Feelings Are Caused by Irrational Beliefs
Next time you’re feeling negative emotions, don’t focus on the event that you think ’caused’ them. Ask yourself what belief you hold about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:
- “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
- “If I lose my job, my life is over.”
- “If I don’t finish reading this post, the writer will hate me forever.”
Only the third one is true. The other two are irrational. And that’s why you get anxious, angry or depressed.
Revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I lose my job, I can get another one. It’s happened before and I was fine.”
So, you’re revising your beliefs to overcome sadness and anger. Great. But what about when you’re unhappy because you’re worried about the future?
In the next article, Control What you Can and Ignore the Rest, we’ll look at the Serenity Prayer, the Buddhist angle and more about the Stoics…