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Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Knight of Pentacles is a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist

Sirian Starseed 
I bought a yoga journal yesterday, DailyGreatness Yoga Journal: Your Masterplan for a Beautifully Conscious Life.  It's a lovely book and can be a great tool for developing good habits. I hesitated about purchasing it because of 1) the price tag and 2) my tendencies to become OCD about this sort of thing. A book like this panders to the colour-coded list maker type, which I certainly am. It's the follow-through where I trip up, and in the last few months of working with Cognitive Behaviour techniques, I'm beginning to understand why.

I might as well just tell you about the type of CBT I've been exploring. It's called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and it's very illuminating.

According to REBT, we disturb ourselves by making three irrational demands of life. We are not aware that we hold these demands, but they are the usual underlying cause of disturbance:

1. The demand that we perform well or outstandingly at all times.
2. The demand for others to treat us nicely, considerately or fairly at all times.
3. The demand for life to be comfortable and hassle-free at all times.

(These are irrational demands, obviously, but think about it. You can probably trace most of your unsettledness, unhappiness, anger, anxiety, depression, etc, back to one or all of these three. I have no idea why we do this.)

This style of cognitive behaviour therapy does not seek to put a positive spin on everything that happens to you or on how you feel, but to help you understand that by taking the demand out of your thinking and increasing your frustration tolerance to experiences you don't like, you can develop confidence and increase your chance of success.

Some of us seem to have these coping skills naturally, others of us need to develop them. For some of us, to greater or lesser degrees, when the above unconscious demands are not met, we tend to have one or all of the following three reactions:

1. 'Awfulizing' - the event is not just bad, it is the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe and there is nothing that could be worse. We say things like - It is a disaster. It is the end of the world. It is a catastophe. It is horrible/awful/terrible.

2. Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT) - a belief that underestimates your ability to cope. We say things like - It is intolerable. I can't take this. I cannot stand this. It is too hard.

3. Self-damning - judging yourself in a globally dismissive, totally negative way. We say things like - I am a loser. I am a failure. I am weak. I am stupid. I am worthless. I am useless. I am an idiot.

REBT offers three strategies to counter the above reactions:

1. Reality check - Is it a natural law, like gravity? Is there any evidence to support it, as in the kind of evidence that supports the existence of gravity?

2. Common sense - Is it logical to state this?

3. Helpful - Is this belief helpful to the situation?

Then we can turn the beliefs around to modified statements, statements that do not deny the reality that what you are going through is not fun for you (I appreciate that):

'It would be bad if --------but it is not the end of the world.'

'It would be very difficult if ----------but I can live through it. It will not kill me.'

'I don't like the fact that --------- but that does not make me a failure as a human being. I remain worthwhile and fallible.'

So...there are these blank pages in the yoga journal that ask me to write all this stuff down, make a mission statement, make a 90-day forward plan. I looked at the pages and I started to get a bit freaked out. Why? Because of my demand on myself to perform outstandingly at all times. I must fill the pages in perfectly, or I cannot fill them in at all. Why?

Because If I don't fill these pages out perfectly, it would be a disaster. I would ruin the book. I would have wasted my money. It would be the worst thing that could possible happen! And if I mess up the book, if I don't get it right, I couldn't cope with that. The guilt of buying such a nice book and not being able to use it properly would make me feel terrible. I couldn't cope with that. And isn't this just the way I always end up - I fail at everything, because I am useless and stupid and I can't do anything right. I might as well just forget the whole thing because I will surely not use it properly for the year anyway.

Because filling out this book should be easy. It's something I want to do, so it should be easy. If it isn't easy, that would be horrible! I cannot cope with things that are not easy. I cannot deal with them. If it isn't easy for me, it means I am too stupid to do it and shouldn't have even bought the book.

Now -- do you see how that thinking went straight through the REBT pattern???? And do you see how it can come about that a person would buy a journal and then be afraid to write in it?

You know, you don't sit and literally think all these things. They are like flashes and pangs of emotion, not verbalised. And it can all flash through you in a matter of seconds.

But, wait.

There is no truth in the belief that I would ruin the book and have wasted my money if I don't get it perfect. There is no law that says a book must be filled in perfectly. Also, it is true that I may feel bad about not filling in the book perfectly, but it is not true that I cannot cope with that. I can bear it. I will not break, fall apart or die -- it is nonsensical to feel that disaster will befall me if I do not fill in the book perfectly. Also, if I don't know what to write in the journal, it makes no sense to conclude that I therefore know nothing and that I am useless, stupid and a failure. The truth of the matter is, I simply don't know what to write. It is not helpful to hold the beliefs that the book must be perfect, that I cannot bear it if I don't write the 'right' thing, and that I am a failure - these beliefs create the anxiety that prevents me from taking any action at all.

And there is no truth in the belief that filling in the book should be easy. There is no evidence that life has to be easy and comfortable. There is no universal law saying that filling in a book should be easy. It is perfectly reasonable to want things to be easy, however it does not follow that just because you wish it, it should be so. It is common sense to accept the fact that while I may want something to be so -- in this case, goal-setting should be easy -- that doesn't mean it has to be so. (Just because we want it to be a sunny day doesn't mean the sun must shine, does it?)  The belief that goal-setting should be easy is unhelpful. The demand provokes anxiety and leads to avoidance behaviour.

And so I can set healthier beliefs:

I want to fill in the new journal perfectly, but I don't have to. The fact that I may not fill it in perfectly is uncomfortable for me, but not the worst thing that could ever happen to me. It is frustrating, but I can bear it. I will not die.  It doesn't make me useless. It doesn't make me a failure. It doesn't mean that the rest of the book would then be ruined. I accept myself as a fallible person, and my worth does not depend on how I fill in the book.

These truer statements can also flash through you in a matter of seconds...but you will probably have to start challenging beliefs after the fact before you reach the point where you can do it automatically. (Unless, like some lucky people, you were born with or were taught the skill by the way you were raised).

I cannot tell you what a struggle it has been to make myself start writing in this book. The desire to avoid writing in it in order to avoid all the feelings and fears about it is very strong.

This morning I drew Adept of Crystals -- Knight of Pentacles. 'Take your time,' he said. 'Do things slowly. Work it out.'


  1. Carla - this is REALLY interesting, thank you for posting about REBT. Have you read The Work by Byron Katie? Those reality strategies remind me of her system and I have found them very helpful when that inner dialogue runs rampant! And the diary thing - oh do I hear you lol! do you know how many journals I own?! I do not want to write in any of them in case what I write isn't perfect! Get writing in your yoga journal, girl! and the Knight of Pentacles is just perfect. The slowest moving and most deliberate of the Knights! Ali x

    1. Hi Ali, I haven't read it but I'm going to seek it out now. :) I have been writing in my journal today. Now that I've made some scribbles (and yes some cross outs!) I feel a bit freer about the whole thing. x

  2. Isn't it amazing the hoops we make ourselves jump through?! I hope you find the joy in filling the journal in. Reminds me, I haven't looked at me "Incredible Year" journal for months...

    1. I am going to carry this around with me. It's a little bulky but certainly more compact than 'Incredible Year', which is cute but a bit to rah rah for me. The Daily Greatness is, funnily enough, based somewhat on CBT ideas. :)

    2. Maybe I'll be ready for 'Incredible year' in a year or two. :)

    3. I know what you mean about it being rah rah, but I like the "fun-ness" of it, and that I'm not afraid to scrawl in it as it's kinda messy anyhow :) I dug it out after reading your post - interesting to go back to and add into now, six months down the line...