Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
Many of your understandings about yourself and the world around you were acquired when you were a child. Some of these beliefs are no longer valid; some never were. Nevertheless, negative beliefs about yourself and your ability to cope with certain challenges can handicap your performance, and so become self-confirmatory. Once established, the cognitive structures that promote self-sabotaging Emotional Disorders can maintain themselves indefinitely.
As you go through the pages in this section you will discover the specific causes of your emotional reactions to the things that happen. You can use this self-knowledge to promote personal growth, but the low-hanging fruit comes from stopping the self-sabotage.
To learn about yourself you will do some personal research into the cause-and-effect relationships between the things that happen in the outside world and your emotional reactions to them. Becoming familiar with the cognitive distortions that are responsible for counter-productive emotional reactions is the key to escaping neurotic traps.
Even though you may feel certain that your interpretations of events are valid and complete representation of objective facts, they are, in fact, creations of a nervous system with a particular perspective.
Valid or not, it is your interpretation of events rather than the events themselves that determine your emotional reaction to them. The thought record is a tool to deconstruct the causal chain from antecedent events to your emotional reactions. The exercise of doing Thought Records to research the cause-and-effect principles that operate in your subjective universe promotes Meta-Cognitive Awareness. This perspective of dispassionate observation of your emotional reactions to the things that happen can free you from the mentality of childhood.
Doing Personal Research
The primary tool for researching the beliefs and perspectives that bias your interpretations of the things that happen is the Thought Record. In order to use this tool, you have to shift from the perspective of the actor — who must quickly appraise complex a situation to produce an immediate response — to the perspective of the personal researcher — who has the time and cognitive resources to use inductive and deductive reasoning to identify the most advantageous response.
After doing several thought records you will likely recognize patterns of external events and internal states that will give you the key to understanding how your self-sabotaging trap work. Once you understand the important cause-and-effect principles that operate in your subjective universe, you will shift from personal research to developing the procedural skills to exercise your will.
Consider a time that you experienced a strong emotional reaction. In real time, it seemed to be a necessary and unconditional reaction to the nominal antecedent — e.g., "she said, 'X' to me." When you do the thought record some time later, you will view that event in hindsight, from the perspective of the dispassionate observer. Our goal is to understand the specific causes of your emotional reaction. Another person may have reacted differently to the same antecedent event. What belief or perspective caused you to react the way you did?
The challenge here is that the beliefs and perspectives we want to research are so deeply ingrained that they tend to be automatically accepted as valid. To explore your cognitive structure you have to get outside of it, and so for this cognitive research you will have to question and test some of the assumptions about the way things are that you have used since childhood.
The process of coming to know yourself is among the most important and satisfying developmental passages of adulthood. As you develop an understanding of the cause-and-effect principles that determine your emotional reaction to the things that happen, you become free of the mentality of childhood that promote Addictive and Emotional Disorders.
Fast path to the Thought Record
- First, go over the List of Popular Thinking Errors to see which ones seem particularly familiar. Consider how these beliefs may promote self-sabotaging emotional reactions to the things that happen.
- Later, when you experience an emotional over-reaction to something that has happened, complete a Thought Record. After you have done a few, you will come to understand how your interpretations of an antecedent event elicits the self-sabotaging emotional consequence.
Default path to the Thought Record
A major threat to good outcome is low self-efficacy, because those who do not believe they will succeed tend to give up as soon as they run into discomfort or a setback. On the other hand, if you believe in yourself you will tend to persevere and continue to work the problem until you achieve your goal. In either case, you beliefs about your likelihood of success tend to become self-fulfilling profecies.