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The beliefs that give people emotional problems are evaluative beliefs. Virtually all emotion comes from evaluative thinking.
Thus, if you just make a simple observation you will not feel emotion.
Let’s consider a statement such as "Jake admires me."
That’s an assertion of fact only.
By itself it does not spawn feelings.
But if you add an evaluation, then you produce an emotion.
For example: "I like Jake admiring me." "I love Jake admiring me." "I dislike Jake admiring me." "I loathe Jake admiring me."
The strength of any "like" exists on a scale from 0 percent to 99.9 percent. (You can never prefer something at the 100 percent level because no matter how strongly you desire it, theoretically you could always yearn for it even more.)
If you prefer to be admired by Jake only slightly (at the 10 percent level, say) you will feel mildly pleased that he’s admiring you and mildly displeased should he despise you. If, on the other hand, you prefer it at the 90 percent level, you will feel rather great when Jake admires you and greatly disappointed if he doesn’t. Thus preferences create emotions. Since the preferences are based on a scale from 0 percent to 99.9 percent, appropriate or reasonable emotions come from preferences.
On the other hand inappropriate or unreasonable emotions come from demands rather than preferences. What we call "demands" consist of magical, absolutistic, moralistic notions, and take the form of "musts" and "shoulds."
For example: "Jake absolutely MUST admire me and it would be awful if he doesn’t!"
"Musts" and "shoulds" lead to dysfunctional emotions-emotions that eat away at you, such as anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, and self-pity.
Demandingness also leads to self-defeating behaviors such as procrastination, violence, and addictions, including alcoholism, substance abuse, overeating, gambling, and compulsive shopping.
The key to the Three Minute Therapy method is that it’s perfectly rational and generally helpful to have preferences, especially quite strong preferences, but it’s irrational and harmful to turn these preferences into demands or "musts."
The majority of emotional problems arise because individuals believe that something or other MUST be, or not be.
For example: "I MUST do well at school" (instead of "I PREFER to do well at school"); "I MUST not feel anxious" (instead of "It’s UNFORTUNATE that I sometimes feel anxious"); or "My spouse MUST not behave coldly toward me" (instead of "I find it UNPLEASANT when my spouse behaves coldly toward me").
Allied with the judgment that something must (or must not) happen is the judgment that when it doesn’t (or does) happen, this is awful, terrible, horrible, shameful, or unbearable.
Thinking in terms of "musts" is the essence of unrealistic, irrational thinking, as well as self-defeating behavior.
There are three kinds of "musts" or irrational demands.
"Must" #1, demands on oneself
"Must" #2, demands on other people
"Must" #3, demands on the situation (or on the Universe)
Many therapists try to persuade their clients to adopt only realistic goals and to give up unrealistic goals. But even unrealistic goals may be harmless, or perhaps beneficial, as long as they are viewed simply as preferences and not as demands.
Suppose you have an unrealistic goal, such as becoming the richest person alive. And you think, "I keenly PREFER to be the richest, and it’s unfortunate that I’m not." And you want that at the 90 percent level-very, very much.
Most therapies would say: "Holding that kind of unrealistic goal will cause you emotional problems. Think more realistically. Don’t compare yourself to others and just aim to do your best. Then you won’t feel so pressured." But such advice is wrong and could be harmful.
It’s wrong, because since you only have a preference, not a "must," you will not feel disturbed about not being the richest person alive. It could be harmful advice since high, lofty goals, no matter how unattainable-if viewed as preferences, not demands-motivate and add passion, challenge, and involvement to life. (continued below)