How this programme can help you

 Most people want to be happy. They would like to feel good, avoid pain, and achieve their goals. For many, though, happiness seems to be an elusive dream. In fact, it appears that we humans are much better at disturbing and defeating ourselves! Instead of feeling good, we are more likely to:

  • Worry, feel guilty and get depressed
  • Put ourselves down and feel shy, hurt or self-pitying
  • Get jealous, angry, hostile and bitter or suffer anxiety, tension and panic.
  • Act in self-destructive ways: strive to be perfect in everything we do, mess up relationships, worry about disapproval and let people use us as doormats, compulsively gamble, smoke and overspend or abuse alcohol, drugs and food
  • Some even try to end it all.

The strange thing is, most of this pain is avoidable! We don’t have to do it to ourselves. Humans can, believe it or not, learn how to choose how they feel and behave. Does that seem strange to you? After all, it is commonly believed that we are victims of our circumstances, that our emotions result from the what happens to us - our everyday experiences, how other people behave toward us, and so on.

As you think, so you feel

‘People feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them.’ Ancient words, from a first-century philosopher named Epictetus - but just as true now.

Events and circumstances do not cause your reactions. They result from what you tell yourself about the things that happen. Put simply, thoughts cause feelings and behaviours. Or, more precisely, events and circumstances serve to trigger thoughts, which then create reactions.

The past is significant. But only in so far as it leaves you with your current attitudes and beliefs. External events - whether in the past, present, or future - cannot influence the way you feel or behave until you become aware of and begin to think about them.

To fear something (or react in any other way), you have to be thinking about it. The cause is not the event - it’s what you tell yourself about the event.

The rules we live by

What we tell ourselves in specific situations depends on the rules we hold. Everyone has a set of general ‘rules’. Some will be rational, others will be self-defeating or irrational. Each person’s set is different.

Mostly subconscious, these rules determine how we react to life. When an event triggers off a train of thought, what we consciously think depends on the general rules we subconsciously apply to the event.

Let us say that you hold the general rule: ‘To be worthwhile, I must succeed at everything I do.’ You happen to fail an examination; an event which, coupled with the underlying rule, leads you to the conclusion: ‘I’m not worthwhile.’

Underlying rules are generalisations: one rule can apply to many situations. If you believe, for example: ‘I can’t stand discomfort and pain and must avoid them at all costs,’ you might apply this to the dentist, to work, to relationships, and to life in general.

Why be concerned about your rules? While most will be valid and helpful, some will be self-defeating. Faulty rules will lead to faulty conclusions. Take the rule: ‘If I am to feel OK about myself, others must like and approve of me.’ Let us say that your boss tells you off. You may (rightly) think: ‘He is angry with me’ - but you may wrongly conclude: ‘This proves I’m a failure.’ And changing the situation (for instance, getting your boss to like you) would still leave the underlying rule untouched. It would then be there to bother you whenever some future event triggered it off.

Most self-defeating rules are a variation of one or other of twelve self-defeating beliefs, which we will look at shortly.

How this programme can help you

How do you actually set about achieving self-control and choice? By learning how to identify and change the specific thoughts and underlying rules which cause your problems, then use a variety of techniques to consolidate these 'cognitive' changes and put them into practice.

This programme will help you identify which of the twelve self-defeating beliefs may be troublesome for you, then show you how to combat the irrational belief and replace it with a more functional one - and act on the change.

How to use this programme

We strongly advise you to start by completing the questionnaire (if you read the list of twelve self-defeating beliefs first, this could introduce a subtle bias into the answers you give on the questionnaire).

Once you have completed the questionnaire, the results page will enable you to link to detailed information on any beliefs about which you wish to learn more and perhaps work at changing. The pages devoted to each belief will in turn provide links to related information, both within this programme and on the internet.

When you subsequently start this programme, you can choose from a range of options:

  1. Go back to the questionnaire.
  2. View the page relating to any of the twelve self-defeating beliefs.
  3. Read some background information on the nature of self-defeating versus rational thinking.
  4. Read about the specific types of irrational thinking: distortions of reality, awfulising, discomfort-intolerance, demanding, and people-rating.
  5. Get information on self-help techniques.
  6. Learn strategies for motivating yourself when the path of personal change seems tough (as it will some of the time!).
  7. Find out about two books and a relaxation tape by the same author - Choose to be Happy, GoodStress and Relaxation for the Real World - that you can obtain if you would like to learn more about helping yourself with a range of problems.