Aaron Beck: studied profoundly depressed people at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. He experimented with structured program that taught new thinking patterns to people who felt hopeless about themselves and their lives. He concluded that "automatic thoughts" (repetitive thoughts that were wrong in systematic ways) were responsible for depression and anxiety and he aimed to change their mental "rule books".
Albert Ellis: forged a new school of psychotherapy in the 1960s, called cognitive therapy, based upon the relationship between conscious thought, emotions and happiness. People do better when they learn better ways to think.
Lloyd Homme: came up with the key to the application of the separate discoveries of Beck and Ellis. He observed that conscious ideas could be treated in the same way as overt behaviors: that is, they can be observed, manipulated and changed directly through deliberate and diligent effort using techniques such as reinforcement and shaping.
Limitations: Tens of thousands of individuals have been able to reduce their unhappy thoughts, and increase happiness levels, using these techniques. You don't need a therapist to do this. The main difficulty is to become aware of these thoughts and patterns and then to substitute effective ones for these negative and irrational ones. The new pattern must be repeated diligently until it replaces old thinking patterns and feels "natural".
The only weakness or caution associated with this approach is that not everyone seems to be able to notice the way that they think. Their own thinking styles, specific thoughts and distortions are not readily available to them. Some of these people can learn to access their own thinking but others don't seem to be able to do this at all. Some questions to ask yourself to clarify whether you can notice your thinking:
1. Can you tell others about your thoughts?
2. Do you think in words or sentences or language at least some of the time?
3. If you think about what you are going to do tomorrow, what form does the thinking take (words, images, sounds, something else)?
4. Do you just get a sense of things or do you get feelings?
Many people use pictures for one kind of mental task or activity, words or visualized words for another, and a sense of things for other mental purposes. Some people talk to themselves all day long. Others never do.
This approach seems to work best with people who can quickly tell others what they are thinking and feeling from moment to moment. For others, a counselor might be the best option.
The catch: There is evidence that "going through the motions can alter the emotions". For example, if we act and speak with respect for someone, we are more likely to come to feel more respect for that person. We can, to some extent, come to feel as we behave and think but this ultimately means that having a winning attitude and a positive outlook can even make a 60-year-old rotund person into a ballerina.
This is worse than fallacy. Such an idea suggests that those of us who have not succeeded in the eyes of society simply failed to think positively enough. If you take this to its logical extremes, it is obviously ridiculous. It means that everyone who ever gets a serious disease has simply not been positive enough – when the truth is that they are simply mortal.
Click here to Explore Your Belief Systems
Click here for the Six-Step Change Model for changing your thoughts and increasing your happiness
Click here for the ABC Change Model for learning optimism