Ever since the 1950’s when Albert Ellis, Ph.D., my teacher and mentor, developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy/Coaching, the mental health field has not been the same. Instead of spending months and years gazing inward and backward with no real behavior change, folks experiencing emotional distress and day-to-day unhappiness, fear and worry, finally had a way to move forward and stop upsetting themselves.

REBT/C is built on the idea that events, conditions, people, circumstances, situations, and places do not cause people to become upset. Then, what does?

Ellis suggested that “The best years of life are the ones in which people decide their problems are their own. They do not blame them on their mother, the ecology or the president. They realize that they control their own destiny.” Upset is caused by internal beliefs and self-talk about external events. In other words, as I teach my clients, “the link is what you think.” Rational, realistic, accurate and logical thinking bring us closer to getting good results in the real world and diminish emotional distress.

Choose healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unhealthy, responses to life’s situations and you will experience emotional consequences accordingly. Depression, anger and anxiety, and all shades in between these negative and unhealthy emotions, are pernicious feelings that grow from steadfastly believing in these three “musts”:

1. I must do well and win the approval of others or I am worthless (depression)

2. Other people must treat me fairly or they deserve to be punished (anger)

3. I must get what I want when I want it, and not get what I don’t want, and I can’t stand it if I don’t (anxiety)

Anchored in the following A-B-C paradigm, you can see how your thoughts alone determine your emotions.

A = Activating Event (something happens)

B = Belief (about the event)

C = Consequence (emotional reaction to the belief)

So let’s say:

A = Someone looks at you with a negative expression on his/her face.

B = You believe that the person doesn’t approve of .you, or thinks badly about what you are doing.

C = You feel anxious, self-critical and badly about yourself.

Now, change your thinking and see how differently your C, your emotional consequence, becomes.

A = Someone looks at you with a negative expression on his/her face.

B = You think that the person may be having a bad day.

C = Now, you feel badly for the person.

See what changed? The only thing that changed was your thinking. That’s all that ever has to change in order for you to feel more positive and have a healthier mindset. Holding on to the three beliefs described above, the three “musts,” will diminish your happiness, and create emotional distress, or worse.

Who says these “musts” thoughts are true? Is it something that’s truly terrible, horrible and awful, or is it simply a less than desirable outcome than one you’d have preferred? Is it a horror or a hassle?

So instead of being locked into looking backwards for answers and focusing on what’s wrong, my 40+ years as a therapist and coach helping people live more optimally, has convinced me that a forward-thinking, positive, blameless, rational and straightforward approach to changing thinking about life’s circumstances, brings more sustainable and quicker results.

Remember, it’s not your mother’s fault, it’s not the fault of your boss, your partner, your friends, your neighbors – you upset yourself because of the inflexible, irrational, inaccurate, demanding beliefs that you hold about external events in your life. You persist in upsetting yourself because you have persisted in holding onto these erroneous beliefs and not letting go of these unhealthy and unhelpful thoughts. It may take a long time, even a lifetime, to change your beliefs, but if you don’t start, you’ll never develop a healthy mindset.

It’s never too late to start, and it’s always too soon to stop, developing unconditional self, other and life acceptance. When you catch an irrational, unhealthy negative belief, when you recognize it, reject it and replace it. Catch it, challenge it, and change it.

Everyone has both good and bad points. There are times when, unfortunately, people will treat you as they want to and not as you would demand they do, and certainly life does not always go in the direction you’d insist it does. So what? It’s never awful, just a royal pain in the…neck.

Develop an accepting, especially self-accepting, attitude and see how your ABCs lead you to calmer, more peaceful, even more successful times ahead. After all, it is all in your head.