The Second Cardinal Sin of Thinking

mountain meadow


“I’m never going to be promoted,” “I’m always going to be left out of the group,” “I’m never going to have a lasting relationship,” “I’m always going to be the one who gets the short end of the stick.” Sound familiar? Have you ever heard anyone, or even yourself, use the words “always” and “never” in a sentence like these? If so, you are among the hundreds of millions of people who over generalize and use these very unrealistic, absolute terms. Wendell Johnson, the American semanticist, psychologist and author of People in Quandaries: The Semantics of Personal Adjustment, is quoted as having said, in a somewhat paradoxical and humorous manner “Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.”

So, what’s wrong with using “never” and “always?” Basically, it’s so often untrue, unrealistic and irrational. These two words may be the most common culprit to purely cognitive based depression. Cognitive based depression is brought about because our thinking is depressing. If we tell ourselves that we will never get a good job, we would get depressed, and with good reason. If it were true that we would “never” get a good job, who wouldn’t get depressed? But, it’s not true. It may not be probable that we get a good job soon, but it is possible that a good job will come at some time. By using “never” we cement the idea of never, ever, at all, getting a good job into our mind. How depressing! Even if it’s untrue, the mind accepts those internal statements, subtle, subconscious and so hard to discern, as absolutely true statements. Furthermore, there is no evidence about the future so it is very unrealistic to use “never” in the context of a future event or happening, such as finding a good job, a loving relationship or whatever one might be needing or wanting. When we do use “never” in such contexts, the mind accepts it as the real situation and naturally we feel depressed. So, for those who might be depressed, examine your self talk and if you are using “never,” stop it!

Perhaps we have made statements such as “I’m always messing up” or “I’m always behind” or “I’m always going to be just average.” Statements like this are based on the past and then assumed into the future. As with “never,” “always” is an absolute statement without any possibility of change. Because life is change, statements such as “always” make the process of living and growing stagnant. For this reason, “always” is considered faulty and should not be used in our internal dialogue, our self talk, or, for the most part, in conversations with others. “Always” can also bring about cognitive based depression, and anxiety. If, for example, you tell yourself “I always get nervous when speaking in front of groups” and are going to be speaking in front of a group in a few days, guess what? You’re going to get nervous. Why, because you have been telling yourself that you “always” do – why should this time be any different? If you want to stop getting nervous when speaking in front of groups, you first need to stop telling yourself that you always do!!

There are a few alternatives which can be used to replace “never” and “always.”

The statement “I’m never going to get a good job” can be rephrased “I am currently having difficulty seeing myself in a good job” or “It may be a while before I am able to get a good job.” Or, the statement “I’m always going to find myself in an abusive relationship” can be changed to “In the past I have been in several abusive relationships, but no longer want that.” “I always get nervous when speaking in front of groups” can be changed to “I feel nervous when I’m about to speak in front of a group.” There is certainly nothing wrong in being honest with yourself about a current feeling, such as nervousness. The problem comes when ascribing a permanent all encompassing time frame on that feeling.

The words always and never are considered irrational. That means, they are not reasonable. Yet, they are used excessively in everyday language both to others and to ourselves. Take some time to listen to others…at the coffee shop, at work, in line at the market, on television. Try and pick out these two words, always and never, and then figure out how the statement these words were used in could be rephrased to be more rational, more reasonable. Let’s say you hear someone at the market saying “I’m never going to be able to quit smoking.” How would you rephrase this statement to be more realistic – and less depressing? Then, when you have a handle on listening to others, take some time to listen to yourself. Try and catch yourself using these over generalized, absolute terms and change them to a phrase that is more realistic, more rational – and more conducive to your mental health.

The First Cardinal Sin of Thinking

orchid flower


“I gotta go to work,” I gotta take care of the kids,” I gotta go to the market”, “I gotta get a job.” There are so many things we “gotta” do. Gotta, of course, is a somewhat slang expression for “got to” or “have to.” There may be no more insidious phrase in the English language than “have to.” No one likes to be forced or coerced into doing anything and “have to” is a coercive phrase. It not only suggests force, but that we have no choice in the matter. With no choice, there is no freedom, and that can make a person very angry.

Many people respond to “have to” statements with resistance, sometimes active resistance such as verbal outpourings of abusive language, and sometimes passive resistance by simply not doing what they have to do, getting ill so it can’t be done or forgetting. Some people become passively aggressive and lash out in very subtle ways when put into the apparently choiceless corner of “have to.”

What we often don’t recognize is that we use this kind of coercive language on ourselves, in our own self talk, and then respond with resistance, anger or aggression. We might tell ourselves that we “have to paint the kitchen walls this weekend” and then find that we couldn’t sleep on Friday night so we’re too tired on Saturday to start painting. Or, we might tell ourselves that we have to go to work, which is an extremely common phrase, and find ourselves going to work, but in a bad attitude, thinking we’d rather be sailing or fishing or…..You’ve certainly seen some bumper stickers which state that I’d rather be doing just about anything than what I “have to” be doing.

The use of the “have to” or “gotta” phrase within our own mind through our own internal dialogue, our own self talk, can cause us to feel lethargic, a-motivated, apathetic and even angry simply because we feel, subconsciously, as though we are being coerced and that we have no choice in the matter. The truth is, we do have a choice in the matter. Certainly, there are consequences to every choice we make. However, it is critically important to recognize that we do have choice, and in that choice, we have freedom. You can choose to go to work, or choose not to go to work. “But,” you say, “If I don’t go to work, I’ll be fired.” That could likely be the outcome, the consequence, of that choice, yes; but, at least there is a choice! There is freedom to make that choice!! Every morning upon awakening, we start making choices. We make choices all throughout the day. We are not coerced or forced into any decision or action that we do not choose. We are even free to choose how to respond to the consequences of previous choices we have made.

Because we have been intensely conditioned by our culture and our language, changing common linguistic phrases, such as “have to” can be very odd and feel quite strange. Nevertheless, it is an excellent exercise to replace “have to” with “choose to.” It is much more truthful and it empowers a person to make such self affirming statements. For example, “I gotta go to work” is transformed to “I choose to go to work.” I have to go to the meeting tonight” is changed to “I choose to go to the meeting tonight.” Any person who makes this simple linguistic change will feel differently. They will feel more confident and more self assured. They will feel less resistance, more energy and greater sense of meaning and purpose in their life. They will feel more liberated, and more responsible. Everyone has freedom to make choices. No matter how restrained, how confined and how limited our circumstances may appear, everyone has the freedom to make a choice if even to have a negative or positive outlook on their current situation.

A Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven

Iao Stream, Maui, Hawaii


Somewhere in England during the 1600’s, the poet John Milton, in his epic Paradise Lost, stated, through the voice of his character Satan, “the mind is its own place and, in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” I can think of no better nor more eloquent statement to summarize the teachings of Cognitive Therapy. Cognitive Therapy acknowledges that the mind is a powerful place; it operates on the premise that our thinking is the precursor to moods and emotions, both heavenly and hellish. It is not the outer event that makes us feel any particular way but how we interpret and evaluate that event that makes us feel happy or sad, depressed or joyful, frightened or safe, energized or lethargic.

Basically, our thinking (i.e., our mind), determines whether or not we feel as though we are in heaven or hell. We could be in the middle of a snowstorm, cold and wet, and feel as though we are in heaven – or hell. Likewise, we could be on a tropical beach walking along a white sandy beach during sunset totally depressed – or elated. It depends so much on the workings of our mind. The underpinnings of Cognitive Therapy, now referred to as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), go back a long, long way. Phrases such as the Christian based “as a man thinketh, so is he” and the Buddhist based “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world,” predate modern CBT. CBT is actually an outgrowth of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), now referred to as Rational Emotive-Behavior Therapy (REBT). RET became popularized in the mid 1950’s by Dr. Albert Ellis whose classic book A Guide to Rational Living outlined the basic tenets of RET. Today, scores of books are available on this subject. Considering that CBT/REBT is considered one of the most effective non-chemical treatments of depression and anxiety, it’s worth some investigations. A great deal of literature on the subject is available freely on the Internet.



Essentially, CBT/REBT lays out several fundamental faults in thinking which can easily cause a person to feel depressed, anxious, frightened, frustrated or angry, to name a few of the more common negative emotions. Through awareness of these faulty patterns of thinking, which are often well established in the mind from years of repetition, change can begin. Once a person becomes aware of these irrational thoughts, they can be challenged and changed to more reasonable, realistic patterns of internal dialogue, referred to as “self talk.” Everyone engages in self-talk. It is as normal as breathing.
The problem is the content of our self talk. We are often terribly unaware of what we are telling ourselves. Self talk occurs subconsciously and quite rapidly. Unbeknownst to the conscious mind, our self talk can be excessively demeaning, demanding, degrading and downright mean. The result is often depression, or anger, or sadness,or frustration. Self talk can even prompt a person into violence. In fact, many domestic violence prevention classes throughout the nation base their curriculum on CBT/REBT information. Self talk isn’t the only culprit in creating our moods and emotions. We also think in pictures. Self talk is often the generator of mental images which also cause us to feel, and act.

Mental pictures can make us feel happy or sad, motivated or apathetic, depressed or highly expressive, heavenly or hellish. Mental pictures can prompt us into action with an effectiveness equal to repetitive television commercials Taken together, our self talk and our mental pictures are largely responsible for how we see the world, how we see ourselves, how we behave, what goals and dreams we have, how we engage in relationships, how we deal with failures, setbacks and obstacles in our life….basically, how we live – and who we think we are. Self talk and mental pictures create our self image, our self concept. Counselors and therapists aren’t the only ones who work with this information. Highly successful individuals are keenly aware of how important self talk and mental pictures are to performance. Top notch sales and marketing executives and athletes around the world spend a great deal of money attending workshops and seminars all about improving their ability to use self talk (often referred to as “affirmations”) and their mental pictures (referred to as “visualization”) to enhance performance and build a more positive self image. Because CBT/REBT is such basic mental health information, it really should be part of all high school curriculums. But, for the most part, it is not.

Unfortunately, most young adults, when they graduate from high school, don’t know how to use their most human asset: language. Specifically, the kind of language we use on ourselves, the kind of language that goes on inside the mind, beneath the surface, out of sight and yet extremely potent in its ability to determine our moods and our behaviors. Anyone can begin to learn about this field of psychology as a practical matter. It is one of the more respected and well researched areas of “self-help.” There is ample information readily available. Counselors and therapists in every area are versed in this “theory” and ought to be able to work with any client who requests CBT/REBT as it relates to their specific issues be it relationship issues, grief or loss, addictions, depression or anxiety, panic attacks, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders or any number of psychosomatic ailments. Even those who suffer from purely biological diseases can benefit from CBT/REBT because how we think about our illness can compound the illness – or can help heal the illness. CBT/REBT also works very well in the relatively new field of email based online counseling which is more geared towards thoughtful written expressions and replies – all through email.

Online counseling is anonymous, generally bypasses the rapport building, the beating around the bush and the resistance so common in face-to-face counseling and often provides in-depth, detailed information which can be re-read and re-viewed at the client’s leisure. Online counseling is also not bound by appointments, driving time, parking spaces and the “50 minute” hour. It is very flexible and accommodating.

Future articles will focus on the specifics of CBT/REBT providing basic information and instructions on how to apply this model of personal growth from dealing with negative emotions and a poor self image to improving relationships and achieving goals.

Prevent Domestic Violence

Unfortunately, domestic violence is an all too common experience for many woman. There are resources out there for those in need of information about how to prevent domestic violence and, as well,  support for victims of domestic violence. The link below offers a listing of some available resources to help address domestic violence prevention….


View domestic violence prevention and support resources HERE

Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.

~ Tilopa