The New Year often brings with it a wave of enthusiasm for personal transformation, as we set ourselves ambitious goals and resolutions. However, many of these aspirations fall by the wayside, leaving us feeling disheartened and unfulfilled. Why is it so difficult to sustain change, even when we’re filled with motivation at the beginning of a new year?
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), the school of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy developed by Albert Ellis, offers a powerful framework for understanding and addressing the challenges of achieving long-lasting change. REBT identifies the irrational beliefs that often underlie our self-defeating thoughts and behaviours, and provides tools for challenging and modifying these beliefs.
The irrational belief trap
Many New Year’s resolutions are built on irrational, and ultimately unhealthy beliefs. Irrational beliefs are often rigid, illogical, unrealistic and unhelpful. These elements can show up in our New Year’s resolutions in various ways:
- Rigidly demanding perfection and success: Expecting to achieve flawlessness in a short period is unrealistic and sets us up for failure. Telling ourselves we absolutely MUST go to the gym four times a week is a sure-fire way to stress ourselves out about it when it sometimes slips to only three!
- Illogically believing things have to happen a certain way: Just because you want a new, better paid job, does not mean you are going to find one.
- Setting unrealistic expectations: If you’ve always struggled with languages, is it realistic to expect you will easily learn German this year?
- Our demands ultimately become unhelpful: If you encounter challenges like the ones above when your rigid demands are not met, you are far more likely to experience anger, frustration, lack of motivation and ultimately to give up on your resolutions.
Embracing rational thinking
REBT encourages us to replace these irrational beliefs with rational ones. A rational belief is flexible in its preferences, is sensible and logical, is consistent with reality and is ultimately much more helpful in achieving our goals:
- A flexible preference of simply going to the gym more often than before is going to be much more easily adhered to, and not as frustrating when not, than a domineering demand.
- Sensibly and logically understanding that the goals you want do not have to happen just because you want them to will give you a more balanced and philosophically accurate outlook.
- Setting realistic goals, such as focusing on gradual, achievable progress rather than overnight transformations is key, especially when it comes to learning German! If you struggled in the past, you may well do so now, but realistic expectations can help keep us on track.
- Flexible, logical and realistic thinking is always going to be more helpful. We can either choose to accept how things will really be, and tackle them head on with determination and self-compassion, or irrationally demand things be as we would like them to be, then get upset when they’re not.
REBT: not just for January
Instead of aiming for unrealistic overhauls, REBT encourages us to go on a journey of continuous evolution. It helps us to focus on developing and maintaining healthy thinking and behaviours, making gradual progress, and learning from and accepting our setbacks without recrimination. This approach fosters resilience, self-acceptance, and a sustainable path towards personal growth.
In fact, REBT can be so helpful in achieving our goals, why wait for January 1st to begin?