Examining Our Thoughts. Lessons from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them."
― Epictetus, Enchiridion

A few years ago, I spent some time learning about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a wonderful psychologist in Menlo Park. She helped me work out some things, one of which is that our inner voice is not necessarily authoritative or our friend.

An example:
I get cut off in traffic. I have one problem. I may need to swerve or brake or am delayed in getting to where I need to be. I think “That $*&*&%*&%*^ did that on purpose. I’ll get him by leaning heavily on my horn, maybe yelling at him some and spilling my coffee on myself”. Suddenly I have two problems. The first (being cut off) is momentary; the second (my thought pattern) may give me an aneurysm.

What was happening here is that I was applying faulty thinking to a minor problem, resulting in a potentially major problem. This is the essence of CBT. That our thoughts impact our feelings which lead to counter-productive behaviours.

Since those 6 sessions (and the other nice thing about CBT is that results generally happen really quickly) I have become a whole lot better at recognizing faulty thinking in myself. Unfortunately, this realization sometimes happens after the event (because my monkey mind still gets mad with that &^$^& driver) but what is important is that it happens.

I see this in the workplace all the time.

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour."
- Stephen Covey

People will draw conclusions from facts that are highly subjective. And speaking of facts, it’s best to forget them because they are always clouded by our interpretation of them. I have had people recount to me things that I did that, in my opinion, were made up out of whole cloth (well at least I think so) - you see the problem? Two rational human beings can have completely different recollections of the same events.

A couple of bullet points I have printed on my wall …

  1. Breathe (giving myself time for my monkey mind to quieten).
  2. What I am telling myself is not necessarily real or helpful.
  3. My emotions are real, the facts less so.
  4. What conclusions am I reaching about what happened? Is there another explanation?.
  5. Wherever possible, give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Hope this helps. Flames comments etc, greatly appreciated.

Stewart Belsham

Stewart Belsham is an IT entrepreneur with over 20 years experience consulting for both large and small corporations. He is the founder of Symbiosys, a 20 person consulting practice which has been offering technology services since 2002. More recently, he is a founder of Ramessys which is a digital rights management firm helping corporations protect proprietary data. He is passionate about building thriving, productive and inclusive teams of professionals.

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