The ABC’s of Rational Thinking

rational thinking is education and therapy

The ABC’s of Rational Thinking: Education and Therapy

In the field of rational thinking, aka rational emotive therapy, aka cognitive behavior therapy, there is a particular homework assignment that can be helpful in building skill in rational thinking. Rational thinking is a higher brain function and it’s typically not taught in public or private schools. The closest you have come to rational thinking has been in science and math classes where evidence and proof are principle guidelines. We generally don’t know how to apply evidence and proof in regards to our own thinking. Rational thinking has a lot of substantiated merit as an antidote to anxiety and depression and is one of the ingredients in the treatment of trauma.

To assist in getting a grip on rational thinking, we need to use situations which generate a troubled state of mind; we need a problem, because rational thinking therapy is very solution oriented, and there is no solution without a problem.

The basic blueprint of the homework exercise is to take a sheet of notebook paper, draw three vertical columns. The leftmost column is A, the middle B, and the right C. A is the column to note a situation in which you became frustrated, angry, sad, withdrawn, confused, a troubled state of mind, a problem. It is the Antecedent Situation. The C column is for the feelings, moods, emotions, ill at ease, troubled, problematic, commonly believed to be caused by A. It appears to be the consequence of A. But, there is is this B column, which is really the cause of the feelings, moods, and emotions. B is typically labeled our Beliefs. That can include assumptions and conclusions we’ve made; it can include our values, biases, preferences, and even demands. Our Beliefs are built with our own thinking; however, we use language to think; so it is language that sustains our beliefs, effective or dysfunctional as they may be. These language-based beliefs are broad, encompassing such views and opinions, perhaps even some facts, about the purpose of humanity on earth to the more personal experiences of romance, love, marriage, family, work, obligations, responsibilities, vacations and vocations. We have beliefs about what it means to get a job, lose a job, be promoted, or demoted; we certainly have political and religious beliefs. We may have environmental beliefs. We hold innumerable beliefs including those about who we are, what we are, where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Our belief schemas are not just cognitive constructs in the mind. They are emotional constructs in the brain, and felt in the body. When some deeply established belief schemas are challenged, the result can be, at best, disturbing, at most, enraging. When enraged, violence is very possible. When the belief schema that the sun revolved around the earth was proven faulty, it generated violence. We have belief schemas about ‘self’ which are likely faulty. The process of repairing faulty belief schemas is termed ‘cognitive restructuring.’ It starts with understanding the ABC’s of Rational Thinking.



So, in the homework exercise you start in the C column, writing down your state of mind which, presumably, has been agitated or irritated by a situation, which you write down in Column A. Column A, the Antecedent Situation, is often perceived to be the cause of the Emotional Outcome, column C.





But, there is this B column in the middle. It is actually the Belief Schema through which the Antecedent Situation passes to yield the Emotional Outcome.




If you were caught in a traffic jam (AS) and were very upset (EO), your belief, for example, that this traffic jam should not be happening (BS), is faulty and may slip into frustration or anger. To think the traffic jam should not be happening is faulty because the objective, verified and proven reality is, it is happening. What would be a more rational belief schema or conclusion about the situation, given the fact that it is happening?




A lot of beliefs, assumptions, conclusions upon which we base our day-to-day thinking is faulty, and we are then susceptible to fall or trip into one of these faults, and use language in a way which generates mood disorders. No wonder anxiety and depression are so prevalent; we think daily in ways which support it. The rational thinking therapy homework really happens in column BS, by challenging the way we use language to sustain those faulty, and subterranean, belief schemas. By writing this out in words, using the columns, we begin to get a basic sense of the ABC’s of rational thinking, and begin the process of cognitive restructuring.  There is this problem or troubled state of mind, and there is this situation that appears to have caused it; but, in fact, there is this intermediary of thinking, the way we use language to describe and give meaning to the situation, our belief schema, which is the real culprit. At some point, we can do away with the writing out and simply think it through, focusing in on the belief schema that is generating our particular mood or emotion at the time, question it, challenge it, repair it with a more reality-based interpretation of the situation.

There are well over a dozen very specific ways of thinking identified as irrational, or faulty, which need to be replaced, or repaired, with more realistic thinking. Below are a few of these identified patterns:

Black and White Thinking

Black and white thinking, also referred to as absolutist thinking, is when situations are interpreted as being all good, or all bad, a total success, or a complete failure. There is no continuum, no shades of gray. Science, evidence, verification, all suggest variations, differences in scale, intensity, temperature, weight. Life is a continuum, not an either/or. If a person is depressed because they failed, perhaps the B column says they are either a total success or a complete failure, and the person only got a slightly better than average score; but, that’s not total success, so they are a complete failure, and, depressed. Or, a person is overweight by a small amount, and calls themselves fat. Rational thinking would change this way of using language to describe experience, from black and white to continuum, with shades, hues and degrees. One of the best tools to aid in this practice is the Likert Scale. The Likert Scale is a measurement between 1 and 10, with the lower number being absolute worst and the highest number being perfect best. So, right now, as you read this sentence, where would you rate yourself on feeling safe?

Least                                                           Most


The Triad of Coercion: Should, Must & Have to

You don’t have to do anything. When told you should or must do something, be somewhere, have this or that, who has such authority over you? Of course, as a child, and even an adolescent, your parents had such authority over you, as did teachers, and other adults. But, you’re an adult now. Everything you do is a choice, with consequences. The choices you make may be to obtain positive consequences, or avoid negative consequences. Regardless, we make choices; we are generally not coerced or forced into most everything we do today. We don’t have to go to work, we choose to, because of anticipated consequences. However, in our language, in the words we use, the statements, assumptions, conclusions, and commentary we make to ourselves, and with others, we do use, and do believe in, ‘have to.’ We use ‘should’ the same way sugar is found in so much food. In a traffic jam, we are upset, because we believe we have to or should be somewhere and if we are late we will be rejected, criticized, ridiculed and disapproved of by, presumably, somebody important or with authority. And, what is your belief schema, how do you use language within yourself to describe and give meaning to a situation such as interacting with those in perceived authority? If you were to go and ask for a raise from your boss, what feelings and moods might you write down in column EO? What body sensations, tightness, discomforts, perspiration, breathing, do you notice, as part of Column EO? In column AS, the Antecedent Situation, it is being with your boss in the office asking for a raise. Whatever you wrote down in column EO is not because of what’s in column AS, it’s because of what’s in column BS.

Ultimately, realistically, for everyday situations, the terms ‘should’ and ‘must’, and ‘have to’ are not conducive to mental health. They represent coercion, which most typically results in resistance and conflict. We can do away with a lot of our own inner resistance and conflict by eradicating should, must and have to. In most all cases, whatever we believe we have to do, or should be, or must not do, ‘choose to, or choose not to’ is a more appropriate term to represent the fundamental power of choice, which, though often referred to as both a blessing and a curse, is ours. You can feel the grip of the coercive belief schema if you start saying ‘choose to’ when in a situation where you are a bit angry because you ‘have to’ or ‘should’ be doing something you don’t want to do. It may feel odd, weird, to say choose to instead of have to or should. And yet, really, you don’t have to do it, there is no real should, there is no real basis to use coercive language. There are consequences for choosing not to do what you ‘should’ or ‘have to’ to, just as their are consequences for doing it. That’s just the way it  is. Choice. Consequences. Those consequences may come soon, late, obvious, subtle. It’s physics. It’s Natural Law. Replace as much as possible the use of  coercive language, both within ourselves, and with others, with a word more representative of this inherent freedom, such as Choice, Choose To, or Consider. ‘I’ll consider it’ can be an effective response to a coercive statement.

For, example, within your own ‘self talk’ instead of ‘I have to go to work’ it becomes, simply, ‘I am going to work.’ The coercive phrase is removed. Add the choice phrase, I choose to, I choose to go to work, and feel that. What do you feel when you say ‘I choose to go to work’ as opposed to ‘I have to go to work?’  One can use have to or must in everyday conversation, because it’s so normal, and yet still abide by, and feel, the knowledge of choice, eradicating any sense of coercion. Ultimately, choices are binary, yes or no, go or stay, do or not do. Once that decision is made, other choices may then present themselves. If you were confronted with a new, radiantly transformative, liberating belief schema, about you as person, so verified and evidence-based that you’d be considered a moron by rejecting it, would you accept it?

Mind Reading & Forecasting

One of the more common faulty belief schemas we hold is that we can somehow know what other people are thinking. We can read their minds. We can become rather upset (column EO), when we believe somebody is thinking ill of us (BS), standing around the water fountain with others (AS). Of courser, it is not really that others might be thinking ill of us that us the underlying BS, it is what it means to us, that others might be thinking ill of us. We have layers and  layers of belief schemas. Although ‘body reading’ can certainly give clues and hints to what one might be feeling, by what they are showing in body language, we don’t know what they are saying to themselves about others, or about themselves. The art of reading body language can provide a lot of insight into what, not how, a person is thinking, and, yet, most people are not skilled enough to form conclusions about what a person is thinking, let alone how a person is thinking. One of the most rational statements we can make to ourselves in regard to what another is thinking is ‘I don’t know.’ We can find out. We can ask. That is a choice we have, with consequences, which are not necessarily negative or positive. Consequences too may come in degrees measured on a Likert Scale; some mixture of positive and negative leaning one way or the other. Of course, it may be that somebody is thinking ill of us. That becomes Column A. We become angry about what they are thinking, which is Column C. What is your belief schema about others being angry with you? What does it mean to you when another is angry at you? What is your anger belief schema? What is anger? And, if anger is on the most right of a Likert Scale, what would be on the most left end as a representative of the exact opposite of anger?

Just as we don’t read minds, so we don’t know the future. And yet, almost all anxiety is a projection into the future. Column AS is filled with anticipated situations, and about which our belief schemas (BS) are such that the emotional outcome is problematic, troubled, conflicted, uncomfortable. The problem is not generated by the anticipated situation, it is based on the language we use describing the situation to ourselves, and what that description means to us. Moderately uncomfortable situations can be amplified into deeply disturbing experiences based on a projection, a conjecture, a guess about the future. Again, one of the most rational uses of language in regards to the future is ‘I don’t know.’ And, unlike mind reading in which we do have an opportunity to actually know, by asking, we don’t have such opportunity regarding the future. Probabilities can be useful in projecting a future based on trends. However, educated guessing is still guessing. And guessing is not knowing. If your feeling anxious about something in the future, consider adopting the belief schema that you don’t know the future. You can improve the odds of positive outcomes, for you, individually, through preparation; but, ultimately, you don’t know. And, there are no guarantees. What you do know, for certain, is your immediate sensory experience, fleeting as it is….

Even not knowing can be a situation around which we hold various conclusions that may mean we are stupid or dumb, which would then tend to make us feel depressed, unworthy, incapable or disabled. How would you feel about you not knowing something, if the emotional outcome is based on a belief schema that means you are intelligent and mature?  To acknowledge lack of knowledge is to have an open mind, to be receptive. That is mature. That is intelligence.

“What should we think of someone who never admits error, never entertains doubt but adheres unflinchingly to the same ideas all his life, regardless of new evidence? Doubt and skepticism are signs of rationality. When we are too certain of our opinions, we run the risk of ignoring any evidence that conflicts with our views. It is doubt that shows we are still thinking, still willing to reexamine hardened beliefs when confronted with new facts and new evidence.” – Diane Ravitch


More ABC’s of Rational Thinking CLICK HERE


The Positive Intention of Negative Behavior

leaning tree


All behavior has behind it some intention and some purpose. Behavior is creative and strives to meet a need or fulfill a want. However, the behavior may appear to be irrational and dysfunctional from a “normal” perspective. For example, it’s certainly not logical for self sabotage to be in some way helpful or useful, but it often is. Self sabotage can protect a person from facing success which can be terribly frightening. I’ve worked with several college students who suffered with text anxiety. They knew the information cold but when it came time to take the test, they would freeze up, do poorly and get a C or worse on the test. In just about every case, after some discussion, it became clear that if they were to get an A on the test they would feel the pressure to keep it up and by only getting C’s, that pressure was eliminated. They sabotaged their success to avoid stress and pressure. There is a positive intention in that – it is somewhat protective. Now, the problem was no longer text anxiety but rather the pressure and stress of maintaining success, which was addressed.
Another common example is a child who misbehaves in the home. In many cases the misbehavior is tied to parental conflict. When the parents are fighting or in some form of conflict, the child misbehaves in an attempt to draw the attention away from their conflict and to the child. And, it often works. If parents are squabbling about something, when the child misbehaves, the squabbling stops and they have to focus on the child’s behavior. There is a very positive intention in that misbehavior! Even if parents are not in conflict, a child’s behavior is often a means of getting attention. In a child’s mind, negative attention is often better than no attention at all. For a child, gaining parental attention is a positive intention. Or, take a situation in which an adolescent is involved in gang activity. The gang offers a sense of belonging which the adolescent may not get at home. The motivation to belong has behind it a very positive intention.

Emotional states such as depression and anxiety can also have at their basis a positive intention. Depression can keep a person from facing difficult challenges in their life. Although this is avoidance, it is also protective. A person with fragile self confidence may feel threatened by the possibility of failure and rather than acknowledge that and work to improve their confidence, they simply create a situation wherein they are not able to meet that challenge – they become depressed. The depression is protecting their sense of confidence. Granted, this is somewhat irrational. But, the mind is a funny place and can “make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.” The same is true for anxiety or panic attacks. The positive intention behind these emotional/behavioral experiences can in some way be highly protective. Obsessiveness too can be protective in that it occupies the mind with recurring thoughts about something irrational while something else more important, more pressing, but which may also be painful or difficult to deal with, is pushed aside. Protection is a very powerful motivator and although we may protect ourselves in odd ways, the underlying intention is still protection, which is positive.


Even some horrific behaviors such as rape or murder can be viewed as having a positive intention behind them, although there is no argument that the behavior itself is unacceptable. These behaviors are almost always an expression of power and control. Rape is not about sex and murder most often does not have as its goal the ending of the other person’s life. The goal in these cases, more often than not, is to experience a sense of power and control and that, in itself, is a positive intention because we all need to feel, to some degree, a sense of power and control over our life. People who strive to experience power and control through these types of behaviors are clearly maladjusted. But, it’s hard to argue against the positive intention of seeking a sense of power and control. The question is how can we best satisfy that intention, without harming others? Wars are fought to try and ensure security. Who would say that seeking security is not a positive goal? Destroying “enemies” is about seeking safety. Who would say that safety is not a positive objective? Suicide is an escape from intolerable pain. Or, in some cases to escape dishonor. Those are not negative intentions. That course of action is so often not a wise choice; yet, the underlying motivation is positive.


Despite the fact that so much of our negative behaviors arise from underlying motivations which are reasonable and, in some cases, even noble, we too often focus on the behavior. We criticize and condemn behaviors without considering the needs from which those behaviors arise. This is not to suggest that we should condone such behaviors. But, we could, and should, place much more emphasis on correction than on punishment. For, one of the hallmark qualities of being human is our capacity to be corrected, to adjust, to change….given the proper education and support. We can learn better ways to satisfy the intentions which give rise to our behaviors.

Fun With Affirmations

maui beach sunset

The New Age Thinking regarding the use of affirmations can be somewhat frivolous. The idea that you can simply think about or affirm what you want and then get it is decidedly absurd. Yet, there is no doubt that thinking is a formative force in the materialization and fabrication of our world view and the conditioned circumstances in which we exist. How we view the world, and ourselves, as we are in and of the world, determines how we act which in turn results in effects. Our current situation–all the conditions of our present life and the various contexts in which we find ourselves, is a direct result of our past, specifically how we have used language in describing ourselves, our capacities, abilities and goals all of which is a precursor for behavior which, again, is causative meaning it brings about effects.

Language is not only our tool for communication. It is also our tool for thought. We think in words as well as mental pictures. But, language is a rather crude instrument. In English, with a mere 26 letters, we codify and represent all our experience…and communicate that experience, as best we can, with language. How can 26 letters encompass not just decades but ages upon ages of experience?

Language is tricky…it’s not always easy to understand the true meaning of a word or phrase. For example “love” has many different shades of meaning. When we say we love that new restaurant down the street, is that the same as when we say we love our mother? And when we are told that we should love ourselves, what kind of love do we apply? The kind of love we have towards our pet? Our sibling? One of the most common New Age Affirmations is something along the lines of “I love myself.” What does that mean? Really? Do we love ourselves the way we love our spouse? The way we love our neighbor? We don’t do those very well, so how could we possibly love ourselves any better?

Because thought, which uses language, is a formative force. Affirmations are important. What we say to ourselves, and how we say it, does have an impact upon our mind, our body and our behavior…which, being causative, brings about effects. It behooves us to consider the positive and accurate use of affirmations as part of mental health hygiene. Just as you brush your teeth twice a day, so taking a few minutes to use language and thought in such a purposeful way that the mind is imprinted with positive impressions, is healthy. And, just as toothbrushes come in different styles and choosing one that works well is a consideration, so too designing an effective and accurate affirmation takes some meditation.

There are some basic guidelines to the proper use of affirmations: relatively short, first person singular, realistic, and yet not necessarily a present reality, vividness and kinaesthetic intensity, which is feeling. An affirmation is generally no longer than a few sentences and mostly just one simple sentence. The most common beginning of the sentence is “I am” and this is actually a very good affirmation to start with. After you brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say to yourself “I am.” After you’ve done that for a couple of months consistently, you can add on to it. For example, “I Am Healthy.” Of course, exactly what “healthy” consists of is not detailed, nor should it be. The word “healthy” is associated with dozens, if not hundreds, of other words, phrases, images and feelings. It’s those associations that gives that word its meanings. As you say “I am healthy” the subconscious mind automatically conjures images of what that means. As you repeat that affirmation as if it is a mantra, the images and feelings become intensified. But, you ask, what if I am not healthy, as many people in fact are not. You can still affirm this statement. It is not a hope or a want, it can be a statement of fact…even though it may currently be a lie.

Many of the beliefs and world views we hold today were built up through repetitive use of affirmations…simple sentences…which were, at the time, untruths. But, having repeated them so often, in first person singular, with vividness and feeling, these simple statements which were not at the time realities, became so. For example, a child growing up and learning language might imitate their parent who might often say “I’m such a klutz.” The child begins to imitatively repeat this affirmation and, although not a reality at the time, can easily become one.

To affirm something in the present which is not currently a reality is not a lie. It is simply a conflict. The subjective reality of the affirmative statement, coupled with vividness and feeling, is in conflict with the objective reality of consensual agreement. As the new affirmative statements are repeated the conflict increases. During this period of conflict there may be very strong thoughts attempting to convince one that the objective consensual reality is “the truth.” By continuing on with daily affirmative statements the creative subconscious mind begins to work towards conflict resolution. One of the two “realities” must be dissolved. There is tremendous force and momentum behind the objective consensual reality. Yet with simple persistence, the new subjective affirmative reality which was in conflict with the objective consensual reality begins to take dominance. The objective consensual reality’s basis, which is nothing other than established internal, subjective, affirmative statements becomes less rigid…it begins to crack. It becomes subordinate, and diminishes, and eventually dissolves away. Objective indications of the new affirmative position begins to be noticed in the world of consensual agreement…a new personal reality begins to emerge which is also substantiated by growing objective consensual agreements.

So, you may currently be very unhealthy. That does not matter. You can still affirm “I Am Healthy.” Be warned however, that as the weeks and months pass, as the conflict between the objective consensual reality and the newly forming subjective affirmative statements increases, there may be tendencies to prove to yourself that you are unhealthy. These tendencies need not be acted upon and, like storm moving through the region, they too pass; and then you may find yourself engaging in behaviors which are more aligned with the newly forming subjective reality of being healthy. What these new behaviors are will vary from individual to individual. There is no prescription as to diet, exercise, etc. The behaviors arise from the subconscious mind which is now accepting the newly forming reality. Although some may argue that you must affirm specifics, this writer believes the more generic, the greater the chance of allowing the creative subconscious mind to organize and formulate the necessary components of that reality without undue influence from the conditioned conscious mind.

There are a number of simple, generic affirmations that can be practiced. For example, “I am competent,” “I am efficient,” I am relaxed,” are some very simple affirmative statements that if practiced regularly can impact the subconscious mind in such a way as to bring about behaviors that are in alignment with that affirmation. Here is a longer affirmation that can be useful to repeat upon awakening in the morning and upon retiring in the evening: “I am a unique person, wonderful in many ways. I am gifted with the freedom to make choices and the means to act. I live in a world of possibilities and respond with intelligence. I am alert to what is happening around me. I can communicate. I am able to reason and I can learn. I will often remember…I am a unique person, wonderful in many ways.”

Did You Choose To Be Here?

sunset at keawakapu beach

I have often heard from some, as you may have too, that you chose to be here, on this planet, at this time, in the circumstances you find yourself. And why did you choose to be here? To learn lessons. Do you believe that? If so, I am going to suggest that you are misinformed. You did not choose to be here, you are here by the inescapable results of consequences. Granted, you may be learning lessons here, but that is not what brought you into this world. What brought you into this world is the inexorable unfolding of consequences. Just as a person may find themselves in prison as a consequential result of their actions, not their choice, so too we find ourselves in this world. We did not choose to be in this world. We are here as a consequential result of actions and deeds from the past. And, just as a person who finds themselves in prison can choose to use that experience to learn and grow, so too we have choices we can make in this world by which we can learn and grow. But, the fact that we have choices now does not mean we chose to be here. Some would say, and rightly so, that regardless of our conditions, be they pleasant or bitter, by being here, and having choice, we are empowered, for it is our capacity to make choices, and enact those choices, that builds consequences.

Consequences are the natural results of actions. The sequence of events which has lead to our present circumstances can go back very far, even long, long before our birth into this material world for, indeed, we are far more than the transient body we inhabit or our temporary personality. We are an active energy system that animates the mind and body we inhabit. That energy system, like all energy, is, according to the first law of thermodynamics, neither created nor destroyed. It only changes form. Energy, as the poet William Blake stated, is ‘eternal delight.’ The third law of motion, postulated by Isaac Newton, states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, or, in other words, an effect, a consequence. Long before Newton, the law of cause and effect was understood as an underlying force responsible for bringing about the conditions of our experience. You cannot throw a rock into a pond and not have ripples rebounding from the farther shore, returning to its source. Every action has reverberations, consequences. To say that we choose to be in this world in the circumstances we find ourselves is to disregard this fundamental law of cause and effect.

Many people are relatively familiar with the concept cause and effect, or consequence, also known as ‘karma,’ which is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘action’ or ‘deed.’ What is less well known is the Sanskrit word ‘phala,’ which means ‘fruit’ as in the result of action. There are no actions or deeds, no karma, without phala, the fruits of those actions or deeds, which eventually ripen – and fall upon us. Yet, despite the commonly understood, and accepted, doctrine, or law, of cause and effect, many well intentioned, though misinformed people, continue to expound that we chose to be in this world with the circumstances which permeate our lives. There are problems with this line of thinking beyond the mere disregard for the law of cause and effect. For example, if a person suffering with a terminal disease is told they chose that, the presumption is that they can choose to not have that. And when the disease continues, or worsens, the person can feel guilty or ashamed for not choosing health. If a person is born into this world with significant deficits, either physical, emotional or social, or any combination of those three, they may be told that they chose this because they have lessons to learn. When these deficits continue, they can become guilt ridden and ashamed of themselves for not choosing to get better, or not learning their lessons. To say that those interned in concentration camps chose that is to seriously question the mental health of such people. A person would have to be crazy to choose to be placed in a concentration camp, or in a refugee camp starving to death, regardless of what lessons might be learned. It is far more sane to suggest that current conditions, no matter how beautiful or ugly, pleasant or painful, are the ripened fruit of past deeds, past actions. It is accurate to state that we do have choices in the present; we can make choices about the consequential conditions we find ourselves in. One of the principle tenets of Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy is that people have the freedom to make choices in which they can find meaning in any circumstance, including the most wretched. People can choose what to think and how to act, and interact, in any given situation.

It is far more compassionate, and accurate, to recognize that although we do have choices in this world, the conditions we find ourselves in, no matter how satisfying or frustrating, are not of our choosing but rather brought on by the law of consequences. We did not choose to be here in this world; we did not choose to be in the circumstances we find ourselves. We are here as a result of consequences. We are the ones ourselves, as a system of active animating energy, that brought on the consequential conditions we find ourselves in, both individually and collectively. And, so often our actions have been, and still are, unfortunately, short sighted, selfish, and even malevolent. Despite that, we do have choices now as to how we interpret and respond to our circumstances, how we behave and communicate, how we live, and love, which then does contribute to future consequences. The active animating energy that has brought on these consequential conditions, and which underlies our current mind and body, is channeled into action through a mind that is often still heavily conditioned with erroneous beliefs, skewed values, emotional debris and intellectual blockages. Short sightedness, selfishness and malevolence are still quite prevalent in this world. But, we can choose alternatives. That requires a consciousness at least willing to accept the idea of a law of cause and effect, and a consciousness that can delay gratification, for consequences may not, and often do not, arrive immediately. It is not a matter of figuring out what to do, the multi-dimensional cosmic mechanics of cause and effect are unfathomably complex. It is sufficient to act….from the heart.

Anticipating Anticipatory Anxiety

green ti  liear

You’re going to the dentist – and you feel anxious. You’re about to go take a test, and you feel anxious. You’ve been asked to have a meeting with your supervisor, and you feel anxious. You might just be anxious anticipating another day! Anticipatory anxiety is a common discomfort for millions of people. Some people can even get anxious anticipating the arrival of the anticipatory anxiety! Anticipatory anxiety is the physical symptoms of increased heart rate, increased pulse, shallow rapid breathing and increased tension which can cause upset stomachs and headaches and perhaps increased sweatiness, all of which arise when thinking about an upcoming event.

General anxiety is also often caused by thinking; however, the thinking may be about anything: a past relationship, ongoing financial issues, problems on the job…. Anticipatory anxiety is specifically about some particular event about to occur. What we think might happen can cause great anxiety. If we magnify the potential problems of the event to such an extent that in our mind it becomes a catastrophe, our anxiety could reach such levels that we become dizzy and may even pass out. If we imagine the upcoming event as being uncomfortable or embarrassing, then our anxiety will be less severe, though still quite noticeable. The difference between anticipatory anxiety that is incapacitating and merely moderately uncomfortable is entirely rooted in what we are thinking about the upcoming event.

Truly, any thinking about an upcoming event is conjecture. We really don’t know what will occur. We guess, we fabricate, we imagine and yet we don’t know, which in itself can be a cause of anxiety – especially if we think not knowing somehow equates to instability. Nevertheless, we do fabricate outcomes of upcoming events and those outcomes are generally negative which causes the anxiety. If we were to imagine positive outcomes we would be much less anxious, maybe even excited. Also note that anxiety and excitement can share the same kinds of symptoms: elevated heart rate and pulse, shortened and shallow breathing, tension….Before a person diagnoses themselves with anxiety, they might want to explore the possibility that they are actually excited.

The key to lowering and perhaps even reducing anticipatory anxiety is an awareness of thinking. If we can capture those fleeing internal sentences and/or internal images which we have created about an unknown future, we can analyze them. More often than not, these internal fabrications are not realistic. We may see ourselves at the dentist and in excruciating pain. We may imagine ourselves taking a test and totally unable to answer any question. We foresee the meeting with our supervisor as ending up in being reprimanded or even fired. All of these scenarios take place in our mind often without a shred of evidence. Yet, the mind reacts as if it’s a fact and the body reacts accordingly.

So, how do we combat anticipatory anxiety? First, be aware of the physical symptoms and then take a moment to relax. You can do this by taking a few deep inhalations and exhalations. Then examine the content of your thinking, your internal dialogue and your mental pictures, which occurred at the onset of the anxiety. Counter the unrealistic and irrational thoughts with more realistic and evidence based thoughts. For example, if you see yourself in excruciating pain at the dentist, counter that with the knowledge that you will actually be feeling no pain due to the Novocain or other pain inhibitor you will receive. Test anxiety can be countered with envisioning yourself answering the questions rather than not – it’s purely a matter of imagining something negative vs. imagining something positive. And, if you have studied for the test and know the material, then it’s far more realistic to have a positive outcome than a negative one. If you find that the holiday’s when family gatherings are common cause anxiety, examine what mental pictures you are holding that might generate that anxiety. Sure, maybe you are recalling past holiday’s that were terrible, but that does not necessarily mean that the upcoming holidays must be that way. You can envision and imagine alternatives which are more pleasant and that will reduce the anticipatory anxiety.

Why the mind tends towards the negative rather than the positive is a mystery. Yet, there is no doubt that anticipatory anxiety is purely a mind game. You can win the game if you are aware of your thinking and able to challenge the irrational, unrealistic thinking and replace it with more realistic thinking. Realistic thinking is not necessarily positive thinking, it is more objective thinking sometimes called scientific thinking because it is based on evidence, not conjecture. So, next time you start to feel anxious, become a scientific thinker and examine the evidence. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised to find the source of your anxiety vanish like a clouds dispersing after a storm.