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Challenge your irrational beliefs

IN REAL life many debilitative feelings come from accepting a number of irrational thoughts that lead to illogical conclusions and affect behavior adversely. We usually are not aware of these thoughts which makes them especially powerful in governing our behavior. Disputing your irrational beliefs is a key to success.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2006 00:49 IST

IN REAL life many debilitative feelings come from accepting  a number of irrational thoughts  that lead to illogical conclusions and  affect behavior  adversely. We usually are not  aware of these thoughts  which makes them  especially powerful in governing our behavior. Disputing your irrational beliefs is a key to success.

The Fallacy of Perfection

People who accept the fallacy of perfection believe that they should be able to handle any situation with complete confidence and skill. The truth is, it is totally unrealistic to expect that you can reach or maintain this level of behavior.

Not only can subscribing to  the myth of perfection keep others from liking you , but it also  acts as  a force to  diminish self-esteem. How can you like yourself when you do not measure up to your own standards? You actually become  more liberated  each time you comfortably accept  that you are not perfect. It is important to try to do your best and realise your potential but it is okay  to fall short of perfection.

The Fallacy of Approval
Another mistaken belief is based on the idea that it is vital  to obtain everyone’s approval. Adherence to this irrational myth can lead us to feel nervous and apologetic even when you are not at fault. Abandoning the fallacy of approval doesn’t mean  living a life of selfishness. It’s still important  to consider the needs of others  and to strive for the respect of certain people.

The point is  that the price is too high if you  abandon your own needs and principles in order to  gain this acceptance .

The Fallacy of  Should
When huge source of  unhappiness is the inability to distinguish between what is and what should be. For instance, many people confuse  ‘is’ with ‘ought’. They say and think:

‘They ought to be more friendly’ ‘She shouldn’t  be so inconsiderate’
In such cases the person prefers that people behave differently. Wishing that things were better is perfectly okay, and trying to change them may be a good idea. But it is unreasonable for people to insist that the world operate just as they want it to.

Being obsessed with ‘should’  leads to unnecessary unhappiness  and tends to build  a defensive climate in others. As the saying goes, ‘Rather than complain about the cards you are dealt, play the hand well.’
The Fallacy of Overgeneralization

This occurs when a person bases a belief on a limited amount of evidence . Consider the following statements:
‘I am so stupid, I never seem  to invest money properly’

‘What kind of a friend am I ? I forgot my best friends birthday’
In these cases people focus on a single shortcoming as if it represents everything . Sometimes people forget that despite their difficulties, they have solved tough problems , and that although they can be forgetful they are often caring and thoughtful.

The Fallacy of Helplessness
This suggests that forces beyond our control determine satisfaction in life. People with this outlook continually  see
themselves as victims:

“There is no way  a woman can get ahead  in  a world  ruled by men, and the best thing I can do is to accept it’
‘I was born with a shy personality. I’d like to be more outgoing, but there is nothing I can do about that.’

Once you persuade yourself that there is no hope, its easy to give up trying. On the other hand, acknowledging that there is a way to change , even though it may be difficult, puts the responsibility of finding solutions on  your shoulder
The Fallacy of Catastrophic Expectations

Some fearful people operate on the assumption that is something bad can happen, it probably will.
“If I invite them to a party, they probably won’t come’

“If I tell them how I really feel they’ll probably laugh at me” Once you start imagining terrible consequences a self-fulfilling prophecy can begin to build. For example, jealous lovers who dwell on imagined  unfaithfulness of their partners feel more distressed  than necessary and act in counter productive ways towards their partners. Its important to test out situations objectively rather than to imagine the worst and not begin at all.

If you want to test out your irrational fallacies then try out these three steps. First, decide whether each belief you have is rational or irrational. Next, explain why the belief does or doesn’t make sense. Finally, if the belief is irrational write down an alternative way of thinking that is more sensible  and that can leave you feeling better  when faced with the same event in the future.

(The author is a Psychologist and a professor of Psychology at BSSS. He can be contacted at