Teacher Tool #5

Correcting Irrational Thinking

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The Scientific Method
We all learn the scientific method as we go through school.
What they forget to teach us is to apply it to our everyday
theories and hypotheses. Every thought we have, and
comment we make are really our personal theories and
hypotheses about the way life is, or should be. The question
then becomes, does the evidence of everyday life, and our
pasts support our theories and hypotheses? Or does it
perhaps refute them? Does it suggest alternative, better
theories and hypotheses?

For example, suppose you had the theory or hypothesis that
"They can't do that in my classrooml". They already have. By
clinging to that theory, you create a bigger gap between your
theory and reality, causing yourself to feel more than is
helpful or necessary. If your theory instead was "I don't want
them doing that in my classroom", you'd be frustrated, or
maybe irritated or annoyed if they did. However, if your theory
instead is "They can't do that", you'll be angry when they do.
The bigger the gap between your theory or hypothesis and
reality, the more emotion you'll generate. Two helpful
theories for anyone dealing with kids are:

1) They can think, feel, say or do whatever they want to
2) They don't have to do anything.

One of my friends was the dean of students at our school.
Teachers would often ask him, "How do you deal with these
kids everyday?" His answer was always, "I don't take what
they do personally. They can do whatever they want to. It's
my job to use the tools I have at my disposal to get them to
cooperate as much as possible." Sometimes teachers would
say "These kids have to do what I tell them to do". He would
tactfully help them see that no, "They don't have to do
anything" and by clinging to that theory, they just upset
themselves needlessly, and to no avail. They he would
promise to do what he could to get them to cooperate.
Is that a fact or just an opinion?
                 They can't talk to me like that

Is that a fact, or just an opinion? When people disturb
themselves more than is helpful or necessary, it's usually
because they are thinking in terms of opinions rather than
facts. The more you think in terms of facts, the less emotion
you'll generate needlessly. For example, if you tell yourself,

        They can say or do whatever they want to

That's a statement of fact. Kids can say and do whatever they
want to. That doesn't mean we have to like it, or tolerate it,
but they can.  Here's another example:

               They should be more respectful

That's an opinion. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion.
The following statement is a fact.

       I'd like (I want) them to be more respectful

It's a much healthier attitude to have in dealing with kids.
Demands often come in the form of questions. When people
make themselves angry, such questions are often the cause
of their anger For example:

How dare they talk to me like that?
How could they treat another student like that?

When someone says such things, they are basically saying
someone shouldn't or can't do what they did. The answer to
either question unfortunately is
"Easily!" Kids can talk to us in
ways we don't like. The question is what we're going to do if
and when they do. They can treat each other in some pretty
cruel ways. Once again, the question is what are we going
to do about it. We can also pose similar questions of
ourselves. For example:

How could I have done something like that?
How could I have not seen that coming?

The answers again are "Easily!", because we're all FHB's or
Fallible Human Beings who at times think, feel, say and do
things that make our lives worse instead of better.
Disputing - Questioning, Challenging
If you were in a faculty lounge and ranting about your
students behavior, there are a host of simple but direct
questions I would ask you. There's a science to doing so, but
also an art to it. Let me start with the science. For example,
let me start with a real life example. One of my good friends
was a math teacher. He told me a student threw a wad of
paper at the garbage can, missed, and then just let it lay
there, making no effort to pick it up. He stopped teaching,
went to the student and said, B is for Gary's belief.

B:  You need to pick that up

The student looked at him for a few moments and then said,
"No I don't". My friend went ballistic.

The first I did was to
Affirm The (his) Preference (ATP). In
other words, let him know he has a right to want the student
to pick up the wad of paper (Rule #1)

ATP  Gary, you have every right to want him to pick it up. I'd   
   want him to pick it up too if he did that in my class

Then I asked him the following simple question. D is for

D:  But, why does he need to pick it up?

Gary did what most people do when first asked such
questions. The first word out of his mouth was "Because...."
and he proceeded to given me a list of reasons. The only
problem is that anything people cite as reasons after because
are going to be the wrong answer to this simple question. The
only right answer (A) is:

A:  He doesn't (need to pick it up)

Some other questions I asked Gary helped him see why that's

D: Does he need to do that like he needs air, water and food?
   He'll die if he doesn't get air, water or food. Is he going to
     die if he doesn't pick the paper up?
   He needs to, or you just want him to?
   He needs to, or you'd just like him to?

The answers to such questions are:

A:  He doesn't need to do that like he needs air, water and
    He's not going to die if he doesn't do that
    He doesn't need to, I just want him to
    He doesn't need to, I'd just like him to

So a better way to approach this student would have been to

    I want you to pick that up (before you leave)?

If he says, "I'm not going to" or refuses in some other way,
then say:

   If you don't, I'm going to..(fill in the blank with some

And if he doesn't, follow through on what you said you were
going to do.

You would ask the same type of questions if you told yourself
something like:

B: "I need to get this done today"

You'd probably have a whole bunch of reasons for wanting,
preferring and desiring to get something done. But you don't
need to.

We can set our cognitive (THINK) thermostat wherever we
want to. But if we set it at NEED, we just set ourselves up for
more needless emotion, either anger or anxiety, than might be
helpful or necessary.
Here are questions for the other types of demands we might
make of others, or ourselves.

B:  They have to (should) do what I tell them to
D:  Why do they have to do what you tell them to?
    They have to, or you just want them to?
    They have to, or you'd just like them to?
A:  They don't have to
    They don't have to, I just want them to
    They don't have to, I'd just like them to

B:  They can't (shouldn't) talk back to me like that
D:  Why can't they talk back to you?
    They can't, or you just don't want them to?
    They can't, or you just don't like when they do?
A:  They can
    They can, I just don't want them to
    They can, I just like when they do

Similar types of question are asked for the other three types
of irrational thinking.

B:  It's really awful that kid do things like that
D:  Why is it so awful?
    Is it awful, or just unpleasant?
    Is it awful, or just inconvenient?
    Is it awful, or just uncomfortable?
    Is it awful like _______ (i.e. having cancer)?
A:  It's not awful
    It's not awful, it's just unpleasant
    It's not awful, it's just inconvenient
    It's not awful, it's just uncomfortable
    It's not as bad as _______ (i.e. having cancer)

B:  I can't stand when kids do things like that
D:  Why can't you stand it?
    Are you going to die or go crazy if they do that?
    You can't stand it, or just don't like it?
A:  I can stand it
    I'm not going to die or go crazy
    I can stand it, I just don't like it

B: There stupid for doing that
D: Why are they stupid just because of that?
   They're stupid, or just did a stupid thing?
   They're stupid, or just did something you didn't like?
   They're stupid, or just a Fallible Human Being like the rest
    of us?
A: They're not stupid just because of that
   They're not stupid, they just did a stupid thing
   They're not stupid, they just did something I didn't like
   They're not stupid, they're just a Fallible Human Being
     like the rest of us

The purpose of these questions is not to get you to not care.
It's simply to encourage you to turn your cognitive (THINK)
thermostat down so that your emotional (FEEL) thermostat
can come down. That would allow your behavioral (DO)
thermostat to come down, freeing you to respond instead of
reacting or overreacting.

You want to do a lot of practice challenging and questioning
your irrational beliefs these ways. The practice will cause it
to become automatic. It will be like the equivalent of spell or
grammar check on a computer.

Most people have "rutted" irrational beliefs in their brains.
Once we create such "ruts" we can't get rid of them, and can
always slip into them at any time. When we do, that will
cause our cognitive thermostats to go up, and our emotional
and behavioral thermostats to follow. Practicing disputing,
questioning, and challenging such beliefs is a way to turn our
thermostats down quickly when we do slip into such "ruts".
I Messages
According to Dr. Ellis' theory, people start out with wants,
preferences and desires, and often quickly turn their cognitive
thermostats up, turning them into needs, necessities and
demands. Another way to turn your cognitive thermostat down
is to practice expressing the original wants, preferences and
desires as I Messages. To do so, you simply need to force
yourself to start with the pronoun "I" and use the verbs want
and like.

B:    You have to do what I tell you to

IM:    I want you to do what I tell you to
       I'd like you to do what I tell you to
B:   You can't talk to me like that

IM:   I don't want you to talk to me like that
       I don't like when you talk to me like that

You could also use verbs like prefer, rather, wish, or

This is called putting your behavior where you want your
attitude to be. In this case your verbal behavior. In other
words, you practice talking the way you want to think.
Eventually, you start to think that way automatically.
Effective Coping Statements
Dr. Ellis developed a five step process for bringing our
cognitive, emotional and behavioral thermostats down. It's
based on his ABC Theory of Emotions. The steps are:

     A = Activating Event
     B = Belief
     C = Consequences (feeling, behavior)
     D = Dispute
     E = Effective Coping Statements

Disputing is what we just did above. Questioning and
challenging our automatic and irrational thoughts. That would
be following by identifying and practicing some Effective
Coping Statements - things we could say to ourselves that
would allow us to turn our emotional thermostats down, and
keep them there.
Coping statements should be short and sweet. Like bumper
sticker sayings. For example:

It's over and done with
It could have been worse
It's not the end of the world
I've survived it before and will again
If others can take it, so can I
It'll be over before you know it
I did the best I could under the circumstances
No one's perfect
Everyone makes mistakes
We're all just Fallible Human Beings
People can think, feel, say and do whatever they want to
The only  person I control is me
No one has to do anything, least of all what I want