Today, I present an excerpt from my book, “Self-Aware: A Guide to Success in Work and Life”.
This chapter on “Care for Your Mind” has been rated as the most popular by my U of M students. Given all the concerns in the press recently about mental health and the mind, I thought it would be helpful to offer this material to my readers:
Self-Discovery Step Five: Care for Your Mind
A Poem: No Prozac for You
Lucy, you hang your head whenever you’ve done wrong, yet
You rebound from your guilt at the first friendly gesture.
A “good girl” is all you need to revive your spirit.
No Prozac for you, Lu.
After a few minutes with your head buried in your pillow you’re like a new dog, ready to roll over and play again.
-From my book, “Conversations with My Old Dog”, Robert Pasick, Ph.D.
Is Your Thinking Making You Miserable?
When I first moved to New York City in 1968, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I was alone. Unless I could find a teaching job, I was going to be drafted into the Vietnam War. It didn’t take me long to realize I was becoming depressed and anxious.
Having been a psychology major, I knew psychotherapy could help, but I could not afford it. In college, I had admired the work of Psychologist Albert Ellis, and his development of Rational Emotive Therapy. I checked out his Institute for Rational Living and found out that every Friday night Ellis demonstrated his therapy on volunteers in front of a live audience. I was so impressed by Ellis’ work that I joined one of his Saturday therapy groups.
I have to say I was transformed by the experience. I learned that it was not any specific situation that made a person anxious, but how the person interpreted that situation. I realized that rather than focusing on the sunny side of life, I had been taught to be very cautious and pessimistic about life. The experience of therapy was a key element in my decision to go to graduate school in psychology at Harvard…as well as to ask Pat to marry me!
Today, almost 50 years later, I still practice Rational Emotive Therapy (today this is more familiarly known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). This method teaches people to recognize faulty, irrational thinking and to replace it with a more rational, cognitively based approach to life. It has been the cornerstone of my personal and professional approach. I utilize it with all of my coaching and clinical clients.
Here are some of the core concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that you can use in your daily life.
- Recognize when you are making yourself upset by clinging to irrational and faulty thinking.
- Strive to understand how others are thinking about situations before you judge them.
- When you are troubled, get past any stigma that you have that therapy is a sign of weakness. Rather, reinterpret your thinking to see therapy as a sign of strength and courage.
- Recognize that there are three musts that hold us back: I must do well, you must treat me well, the world must be easy and fair.
- Stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself (e.g., telling yourself you should be loved and approved of by everyone for everything you do).
Today, there are online approaches to help people manage their anxiety and depression. Here is an excellent article from “The Atlantic” describing these services:
Challenge Your Irrational Ideas
Many of life’s problems stem not so much from the things that happen to us as from how we interpret these events. Whether we realize it or not, most of us carry around one or more irrational ideas that act as filters for our experiences. These may cause us to react more strongly and inappropriately to events than is warranted.
In his research, Psychologist Albert Ellis identified a famous “dirty dozen” of these irrational ideas. See if you recognize yourself in any of them:
- Adults must be loved and approved of by significant others for almost everything they do.
- Certain acts are awful or wicked, and the people who perform them should be damned.
- It’s horrible when things are not the way we like them to be.
- Human misery is invariably externally caused and forced on us by outside people and events.
- If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, we should be terribly upset and obsess about it endlessly.
- It’s easier to avoid than to face life’s difficulties and responsibilities.
- We absolutely need something or someone stronger or greater than ourselves on which to rely.
- We should be thoroughly competent, intelligent, and achieving in all possible respects.
- Because something once strongly affected our life, it should indefinitely affect it.
- We must have certain and perfect control over things.
- Human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction.
- We have virtually no control over our emotions and cannot help feeling disturbed about things.
Once you learn to recognize your irrational baggage, you can challenge those assumptions as they arise, and close the lid on them.
Which of the 12 irrational ideas do you recognize? Circle your top three that are most pertinent to you. Reflect on ways in which these three might interfere with your health and success. Be vigilant on how they may interfere with your thinking. Develop a plan for learning to challenge these thoughts.
Add your top three irrational beliefs to the Personal Development Plan. Describe your plan to counteract these beliefs.
Get the Help You Need
We often don’t hesitate to seek expert advice when we’re trying to learn a skill like golf or cooking. Sometimes we seek out other experts—therapists or coaches—when something feels broken. But sometimes we don’t seek help at all because we are fearful or have feelings of shame.
Every semester, students and friends share privately with me that they have a health concern, yet most are reluctant to talk about it because they are ashamed or embarrassed. Health concerns for include:
- Psychological disorders including those involving attention, anxiety, depression, drugs, alcohol, or stress
- Physical disorders including bowel and blood diseases, and all other types of worry
While some students have these issues, many other students are affected by struggles of close friends and family members.
- If you think you have a psychiatric problem, seek therapy.
- If you have a health problem, go to a doctor.
- If you’re having trouble managing your work role, go to a coach.
- If you’ve got an addiction, go to a 12-step meeting or consult your physician.
- If there’s trouble on the homefront, go to a family therapist or marriage counselor.
- If you’re having a spiritual crisis, seek out a clergy person.
- If you’re not sure what you should do, consult a friend or someone close to you.
- Pray for guidance and remember the adage, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Consider what you need and why you hold back from giving to yourself. Usually, it is something like fear of finding out something you don’t want to know or cost in addressing a problem. If there is something that’s holding you back, it won’t go away on its own, so it is important to make a plan for addressing it.
Make a plan for addressing the issue. Who will you ask for help? By when? How will you do it?
I hope this chapter is helpful. If you like it, please consider taking a look at the total book. You might also enjoy the journal I have created to go along with the book. Please consider also writing a review on Amazon.
Let me know whether you would like to see more chapters of the book.
Rob’s new book, JOURNAL for Self-Aware: A Guide for Success
in Work and Life. Link here.